By Alicia Cunningham | Sep 24, 2017
West Valley City, Utah
The three founders of Distillery 36 had good, secure jobs in the engineering and construction industry. But one day Jensen Dobbs, Creed Law, and Jon Gregersen, friends for years, decided to try something new.
"Creed had been researching distilling and fabricating equipment for many years. He just asked us if we wanted to open our own distillery. We thought about it for a very short amount of time and decided to do it," remembers Gregersen. "Yes, we had backgrounds in engineering and construction. But we decided owning a distillery sounded more interesting."
Originally called 'Holy Spirits Distillery', the newborn of a company quickly ran into a trademark conflict with another company. "So we were reading Utah history, trying to get some ideas for a new name," adds Gregersen. They wanted the name to be connected to the home state of Utah. When they discovered that Utah was – very ironically – the 36th and deciding state to repeal Prohibition, they knew they had their name. "It rang to us," Gregersen says. "We knew immediately that it was the right name. We agreed to it right off the bat."
With a dream and a name, the engineers looked for a good location, settling on a site in West Valley City. Distillery 36 was the first distillery to open in the city, and Gregersen felt the growing pains of being the first. "It took us three years to actually get open," he says. "There was quite a bit of paperwork and delays with the government, and we were also self-funding along the way. That meant we kept our day jobs and worked on opening the business at night and on weekends."
The physical location was, admittedly, very run down when the friends settled on it. "But that's the benefit of having engineering and construction backgrounds," Gregersen adds. "We were able to convert it into what we needed all by ourselves," he says. "We did all the construction work. Dug out the drains. Partitioned out the space needed for the distillery equipment. By doing it ourselves, we were able to save a lot of money. Creed also designed the equipment by repurposing fermenters. Our facility and our equipment are homegrown. We are one of a kind."
Today Distillery 36 offers a white rum -- Brigham Rum -- and is getting close to releasing a spiced rum as well as a barrel-aged rum. "You can't start manufacturing until you are completely approved by the government," Gregersen explains. So 2015 was a year of experimenting: trying out sugars, yeasts, nutrients, to get just what they needed for the first spirit offered by Distillery 36.
"We didn't want to rush it," Gregersen says. "We spent the time we needed to get the product we wanted. And once we had the white rum we wanted, we kept going, experimenting next with aging and flavor chips. We had to get an idea of where we wanted to go and what barrels we wanted to use to get the flavor we wanted. We purchased a bunch of barrels and started the aging process, tasting throughout. It's taken a lot of experimentation."
Distillery 36's rum is not molasses based. The founders decided to utilize pure cane, specifically an evaporated cane juice sourced from Mexico. "It has a distinct flavor," explains Gregersen, "and it sets us apart from others."
Challenges: Government relations. Gregersen believes it would have been easier to give up in the early stages of opening the business. "The process to open, the requirements that we had to fulfill in the beginning, it was all a little over-the top," recalls Gregersen. "We had to do things others might consider to be unnecessary. We had to have a lot of patience and willingness to follow-through with every requirement. We didn't ever give up."
Opportunities: New products in new locations. "We are aggressively getting in new bars and restaurants, and that is exciting," Gregersen says. "We also finally got placed on general distribution at the ABC store. That will help us get in more hands."
Needs: Expanding outside of Utah. "But to do it, we need to find the right distribution partner. That's a big need. By expanding out of the state, we hope to raise more public awareness."