Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker, and Utah County’s about to get a whole lot faster. Pleasant Grove is now home to the county’s first ever distillery.
Different from a brewery, of which there are two in the county, a distillery takes a drink that already has alcohol in it, such as beer or wine, and creates something more concentrated through heat and condensation.
Clear Water Distilling Co. is the passion project of CEO Matt Eau Claire, whose career was originally in software programming. After graduating college, Eau Claire said he began to appreciate liquor and spirits as more than just something to be mixed into a cocktail.
“It just kind of went from there for many years,” Eau Claire said. “I just always had an interest in it and to see what other kinds of flavors and different things people were doing.”
A few years ago, Eau Claire’s friends chipped in to buy him his very own still, encouraging him to try and make his own spirits, since he liked them so much. Eau Claire’s first experiment was distilling a sangria — and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Man, it came out good. I thought it was going to be like jet fuel or something and taste just awful but it came out really good,” he said. “And it was super different, too, it wasn’t like anything I’d ever had. I was really blown away by that.”
However, Eau Claire’s wife found out and informed Eau Claire he couldn’t be distilling his own spirits without a commercial license. In pursuit of getting his commercial license just to continue his new hobby, Eau Claire said the idea snowballed.
“I was getting tired of software ... and I thought, well I could do this to retire, I wouldn’t mind that at all,” Eau Claire said. “If we sold the business then we could just call that our retirement. So (I thought), I think I’m down with that, I want to give it a shot.”
What seemed like a simple dream with a simple process has taken two long years, what with first getting a federal license, then getting a state license, changing zoning laws first in Lehi and then in Pleasant Grove, and finding a building and signing a lease.
“We kind of got into this joke that it seems like it’s easier to open a nuclear power plant than a distillery,” Eau Claire said.
After being unable to find a location in Lehi, Eau Claire expanded the search to Pleasant Grove and found a building they liked, but had to go through a long process with the city to change city laws, which were never written to allow a distillery in the area. It took quite a while to figure everything out with the city, and although Eau Claire signed a lease on the building in January of this year, he said the build out took so long he didn’t start paying rent until last month.
“We had to knock down so many things and work so hard to get through all these issues,” Eau Claire said. Although he doesn’t have children of his own, he said he imagines seeing it all come together is a lot like seeing one’s kids grow up. “Tons of pride, and it’s satisfying to see in some respects work paying off.”
Although the facility is mostly finished, with all the stainless steel and copper equipment installed, Eau Claire surmises the distillery will officially open sometime in January because of the time-intensive distilling process. Eau Claire hopes to get things distilling or at least fermenting this month, which will take a week or two, and then it will be distilled. The distilling process only takes a few hours, but after being distilled, the spirits need to rest in a bottle for six weeks before it can be sold.
In the meantime, in an effort to raise more funds for the business, Utah County residents can actually buy equity in the company for $249.26, which Eau Claire said will give people roughly 100 shares in the company. Investments can be made by visiting http://www.startengine.com/clearwaterdistilling.
Although the distillery is not officially open, Eau Claire said they are allowed to sell their goods currently and residents interested in a tour and a tasting can call and schedule an appointment by visiting the Clear Water Distilling Co. website.
Clear Water Distilling Co. is launching with two spirits, “Josephine” and “Lorenz.” The Josephine is based on Eau Claire’s original experiment of distilling a sangria, he said, and named after Josephine Baker, an entertainer and civil rights activist. The other spirit, Lorenz, is a cinnamon and vanilla rum base named after Lorenz Peter Elfred Freuchen, a Danish explorer, author, journalist and anthropologist. Part of the company’s branding, Eau Claire said, is paying homage to people that inspire him and his team.
“Josephine Baker ... (was) just an incredible woman. I mean she’s like ... I’m just going to live it up and do what I think is right,” Eau Claire said. “So she inspires us to kind of go up against these classic categories of rum and whiskey and the big guys who are out there making their stuff.”
Lorenz, for his part, went where no man had ever gone before, which is fitting considering the creation of the cinnamon rum base. Eau Claire used a gin basket, which is typically filled with coriander, juniper and other botanicals and used to make, of course, gin. Eau Claire thought, why not put cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans in the basket instead, and put rum in with it?
“It came out awesome,” Eau Claire said. And uniquely, it has no added sugar. “There’s a lot of spirits out there that have a lot of sugary syrups and stuff added later ... it’s not a sweet drink but it smells like an apple fritter.”
These two unique liquors are just the beginning of the Clear Water Distillery Co.’s creative journey.
“We’re constantly trying to figure out new recipes,” Eau Claire said. “Our shtick is just to be creative and provide bartenders something new to experiment with.”
At the end of the day, it’s that creativity that serves as a driving for for Eau Claire. While craft beers and craft breweries have been on the rise, he said there hasn’t been a similar revolution for spirits — yet.
The idea of being creative also appealed to him. While there’s been a rise in craft beer, Eau Claire said, there hasn’t been the same kind of revolution with spirits, and that’s what he hopes to lead out on.
“Where we’re headed, at least with our distillery, is to bring that new, different stuff that people have never really had.”