Beehive Distilling Has Big Plans

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Beehive Distilling, the state’s first gin distillery in over 100 years, has completed their move to a large new facility in South Salt Lake, boosting the rapidly increasing number of food and drink destinations in the neighborhood. At 2245 S W Temple, the revamped warehouse space is within walking distance of Saltfire Brewing Company, Shades Brewing, soon-to-open Level Crossing brewery, and Sugar House Distillery.

The TRAX S-line runs right alongside the building, stopping at South Salt Lake station just a five-minute walk away. At a tour and tasting on March 21st, co-owners Matt Aller, Erik Ostling, and co-owner and head distiller Chris Barlow showed off their attractive new digs and told us about their plans for the distillery’s growth.

Beehive’s new copper still.

“We were still hanging lights earlier today,” Ostling explained, describing how the building had only one interior wall when they acquired it. Since then, Beehive has transformed the warehouse into several distinct spaces: a front lobby, an interior bar and dining area, a separately enclosed room potentially for private dining, a kitchen, and a rear distillery and storage area.

The goal is to make the distillery a full bar and event space, but as any drinking Utahn knows, the road to “full bar” can be long and complex. For example, there is a strict “no drinks” rule in the designated “distillery” portion of the building, despite the fact that alcoholic beverages are being actively produced and stored there. Big metal doors between the distillery and bar area will have to remain closed during bar hours, but plate-glass windows installed on either side of the doors will allow bar patrons to see inside the works.

That’s a good thing, because the distillery’s new copper still, which accommodates the production of both gin and vodka, is a beautiful sight. A window on the front is engraved with the company’s beehive logo, and on Thursday their newest bottled offering, an organic vodka, was trickling from the still’s tap. Ostling told us that he likes to focus on liquors that don’t need to be mixed, and all three of Beehive’s liquors fit that bill.

At this sneak peek, a bartender was offering two drinks: an old-fashioned style cocktail made with fresh lemon, sage, and Beehive’s Barrel Reserve Gin, and a hibiscus citrus fizz made with Beehive’s Jackrabbit Gin. The old-fashioned was a triumph of mixology, an impressive showcase of a gin the color of bourbon that I wasn’t sure could be improved upon.

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The Barrel Reserve is a gin based on corn ethanol, infused with Beehive’s distinctive mix of aromatics and aged for about nine months in French oak chardonnay barrels that Barlow fires himself and then passes on to other Utah distilleries. The result is remiscent of bourbon not only in color: the aromatics are heavy on vanilla and spice. Several of the barrels, full of different batches of the gin, stand around the distillery on racks, and Barlow tapped one to allow us a whiff of a partially-aged gin that reminded me strongly of spicy rum.

Chris Barlow taps into an aging Barrel Reserve batch.

The Jackrabbit Gin is an unaged corn ethanol-based product with aromatics including grains of paradise, fresh lemon peel, sage, orris root, rose petals, and the traditional juniper berries. Barlow handed out samples of the gin in various stages of distilling–heads cuts and tails cuts–for us to smell, and the aromatics are incredible at every stage, often like an expensive scent diffuser you’d find in a luxury store.

I found that this gin was at its best completely unmixed, maybe with a slice of lemon or cucumber and some ice. The hibiscus fizz was refreshing, but didn’t enhance the liquor the way that the old-fashioned did. Having gone through a few bottles of Jackrabbit at home over the past couple of years, I have only made one mixed drink with the gin: a Negroni, which wasn’t a good use of the liquor. This gin shines on its own.

One of the distillery’s old-fashioneds and a sample of their new vodka, with all three bottled liquors on the bar.

Although no drinks were offered featuring the new Organic Vodka, a plain sample was enough to tell that the vodka is smooth, delicious, and would be perfect in a dry vodka martini or on its own over ice.

Unlike the gins, Beehive’s vodka is based on cane sourced from Florida. Barlow explains that using cane reduces the stinging, alcoholic mouthfeel that we often associate with vodkas based on cereal grains or potatoes. I was surprised to find that the vodka retails in Utah for under $30. It’s as smooth as some much higher-priced options that definitely aren’t local, nor organic.

Despite the delicious bar offerings and excellent food from Laziz Kitchen, the highlight of the evening was definitely Chris Barlow’s distillery tour. Barlow’s knowledge of and passion for distilling are obvious, and if his skill in producing Beehive’s two gins is anything to go by, we can look forward to everything Beehive hopes to accomplish in 2019. This includes not only the opening of the bar, but also the introduction of a whiskey that he plans to begin work on soon.

You can find Beehive’s Jackrabbit gin for about $30 and the Barrel Reserve for about $40. Distillery tours should be available for booking via Beehive’s website soon.

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