By Gregory Daurer | Sep 30, 2020
West Valley City, Utah
Scott says his distillery -- named in homage to Utah's scenic Waterpocket Fold -- is "exploring botanical spirits beyond gin as one of the core passions/parts of the business."
In addition to making a core line of spirits -- which includes a white rum and a gin named for the sacred Temple of the Moon formation in Capitol Reef National Park ("and inspired by the aroma and beauty of our high juniper forests," according to the company's website), Scott says Waterpocket also produces "underrepresented botanical spirits in the U.S., like amaros."
Does he mean -- to cite an example of the style from Germany (rather than from where the term originates, Italy) -- something like Jägermeister?
Scott says no, at least not in the popular perception of that liqueur. Jägermeister is "marketed almost as the opposite of what an amaro is," having acquired the reputation as "a huge party drink," he says. Instead, Scott promotes amaros as "a natural way of finishing" a heavy dinner -- even, say, pizza or barbecue. A digestif. "You drink them at the end of your meal to aid your digestion," says Scott. Or they can even be mixed creatively into cocktails.
Waterpocket makes amaros like its Penellen ("a lighter citrus and spice style of amaro," according to the company's web site, made with orange peel, bergamot, clove, allspice, and gentian). And Notom, a German-inspired liqueur, with ingredients like anise, peppermint, and galanga. Scott says the latter is selling almost as well as the distillery's rectified whiskey, Robbers Roost. Additionally, Waterpocket resurrected a liqueur from Danzig, popular between the 1600s and 1800s, as part of its Long Lost line; Scott calls Oread a "complex, botanical spirit" that's "anchored in cinnamon, sweet orange peel, sage leaves -- so it's got these counterintuitive juxtapositions in it."
Scott's big on bitter. "My palate is very attracted to challenging, bittersweet flavors," he says. "It's like adding new colors to the rainbow that you didn't know existed before."
Scott and his wife, Julia, discovered a host of flavors they'd never been exposed to, when they lived and traveled abroad, due to Julia's work as a chemical engineer specializing in petroleum distillation. Alan had previously worked in TV broadcasting, in addition to being a homebrewer and winemaker. The Scotts sampled Appenzeller in Switzerland, Unicum in Budapest, amaros in Italy. Scott recalls the first time he tried Kümmel, a caraway-based tipple, when he was in Leipzig, Germany: He says, "For a Midwestern kid [like myself], it just tasted like . . . some special ambrosia. . . . 'What is this?!'"
Today, they make their very own version of a Kümmel, Snow Angel. Scott says, "You get this beautiful, bright herbaceous and sweet anise splash on your taste buds when you first taste it. But, by far, caraway is the number one ingredient. And that caraway just sort of warms up and encircles [the anise flavor], and you get this beautiful interplay between the anise and the caraway that is truly complementary and truly more than the sum of the parts." It's certainly not "anise all day long" like in pastis or ouzo, Scott assures, a flavor which some people find off-putting in those particular alcohols.
Like the ingredients in their Kümmel, the combination of Julia and Scott in the distillery has proven greater than the sum of its parts. Scott says, "Between my wife and I, we ended up being a single distiller, I think, because she has the chemistry and the analytical and the mathematical skills that are much better than mine, whereas I tend to drive product development and flavors, and the actual production and day-to-day management of the distillery."
The Scotts employ two pot stills made by the German company Mueller, and they sometimes experiment with recipes in development by utilizing their rotary evaporator. When the distillery opened in 2017, "There was an immediate sort of appreciation for [our products] in the cocktail community," says Scott. "They loved what we were doing."
Scott says, "Our gin is selling very well right now in Utah. We don't have distribution outside of the state of Utah. Believe it or not, this COVID year was going to be the year we tried to break out and [expand distribution]. 2020 has had its own plan for us."
He adds, "The thing that's keeping us alive, right now, in the pandemic is the fact that a lot of people come to [our distillery to buy spirits] instead of going to the liquor store." Based upon their early readings concerning the COVID-19 virus (biochemist Julia studied HIV when she earned her doctorate degree), Scott says they were the first distillery to implement safety procedures related to the pandemic, allowing people to oftentimes feel safer shopping at their distillery than at state liquor stores.
For Scott, the reactions his spirits have aroused within the distillery's tasting room have often matched his own early experiences with similar drinks abroad. "You see their eyes open," he says of visitors, "and they say, 'Oh my God, I've never tasted anything like that before!' That's what . . . our job is: To give people that new experience."
Challenges: When naming its spirits, the distillery sometimes draws upon Utah's inspiring landscapes. And Scott gives a shout-out to the region's "renaissance in terms of cocktail bars, and what's being served in restaurants" -- developments which the Scotts have witnessed over the 20 years they've been living in the state.
Still, Scott says, "The number one challenge for our business, right now, is the fact that we operate in the state of Utah" -- citing the state's monopoly on liquor sales. "If you make anything innovative, there's a high risk they're not going to support you in the time it takes to grow that distribution." In terms of peer recognition, Waterpocket's creative approach has been featured within Distiller magazine.
Opportunities: "The opportunity is in finding new markets for innovative products," says Scott. He points to how craft brewing in America helped beer evolve beyond mass-market lagers, leading to the acceptance of a host of diverse and resurrected styles.
Needs: "We need some more flexibility as small producers," says Scott. "I would sell a lot more if I could ship directly to people in different states. I get inquiries every week [asking], 'Can you ship to my state?'"