By Margaret Jackson | Feb 06, 2023
Salt Lake City, Utah
It took two years from the time Distillery 36 bought its building in 2013 for the company to release its first bottle of white rum.
Partners Jensen Dobbs and Creed Law used their construction industry expertise to build out the space on nights and weekends while working full-time jobs during the week. Getting permits to operate the distillery also was a time-consuming process.
"We bootstrapped the project," Dobbs says. "We do construction -- those are our big-boy jobs."
In addition to building out the space, Dobbs and Law built their own stills rather than buying them from a still manufacturer. They had time on their side to experiment with different designs until they got their federal permit in mid-2015.
After receiving their permit, the partners started experimenting with formulas for its first product and rolled out Brigham Rum at the end of 2015.
Brigham Rum is made from mash to finish in a handcrafted copper still. Distilled from natural, GMO-free sugar cane, the spirit is proofed using locally sourced Rocky Mountain mineral spring water. After distillation, no additional sugars or flavors are added, resulting in a well-balanced, award-winning product with a smooth finish.
In 2018, Distillery 36 released Spiced Brigham Rum, which incorporates bold flavors perfect for sipping alone or mixing with cocktails. The full-bodied spirit has hints of nutmeg and citrus, with aromas of clove and cinnamon and vanilla undertones.
"Rum is a really interesting spirit," Dobbs says. "A lot of people view rum as this overly sweetened spirit that's something you drink in college, but that's not necessarily the truth. A lot of producers put sugar in after distillation, but that's not how we make it. Even with our spiced rum, we only add enough sweetener to offset the bitterness from the spices -- it's not syrupy."
Initially, Jensen and Law planned to build their business around vodka, but by the time they received their permit, six brands of vodka were being made locally. They did create a private label vodka with a local mural artist, but they plan to discontinue the product to focus on expanding the line of rums.
"We wanted to provide a new local product that nobody was making yet," Dobbs said. "White rum provides a great base for cocktails. It can be mixed with just about anything, and the spirit comes through really well. I like my cocktails booze-forward. This rum is not hidden in a cocktail like a sweetened rum."
Challenges: Utah's strict liquor laws make it difficult to navigate the spirits industry. Outside of its production facility, Distillery 36 is only permitted to sell its products to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services (DABS), which Dobbs describes as "not super excited to promote local brands."
Although the state-imposed restrictions pose challenges, they also come with benefits: Distillery 36 sells its spirits to the state agency at a fixed price, eliminating the need for negotiations, and it purchases product consistently.
Opportunities: While COVID-19 forced Distillery 36 to shut down tours of its facility, it also gave the company exposure to a wider audience when it started making hand sanitizers for people to stop by and pick up. Though they couldn't go inside the distillery, they learned that it existed, likely translating into greater brand awareness.
Needs: Distillery 36 envisions creating seasonal spirits that could be sold to DABS at certain times of the year, which would result in increased revenue.
The company also needs to boost its marketing efforts to ensure that Utah's bars and restaurants know about Distillery 36 products. "The bars here also have to buy through the liquor store, so when we go to pitch our product to bars, we can't take it in hand," Dobbs says. "Exposure to bars would help."