A few months ago, Ashley Cross was a teacher. Today, she's the owner of Utah's newest distillery. Did teaching for 23 years drive Cross to a world of drinking? "Perhaps," she admits with a laugh. "I can definitely see the correlation and the relationship between the two."
"Education was all-consuming," Cross admits. Ready for something different, she looked at farming agave. "But delving a little deeper into that, we were concerned with the risks associated with being in business with Mother Nature. And what if we made a successful crop but someone turned our product into something crappy?"
Cross decided to try making tequila.
"We did a lot of travelling, visiting farms," she remembers. One of the first things Cross learned was that if you make a distillate from agave in America, you cannot use the word, "Tequila."
"The word is an appellation of origin," Cross explains, "and that is why our Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo are called agave spirits. We source our agave from Jalisco, Mexico, through a company called Global Goods located in Utah County. It is 100 percent organic blue agave, which is important to us. And because we are making it here, we do not have to follow all of the standards of Tequila in Mexico. Our spirits are actually bottled at 89 percent proof. For our gin, we use organic corn as the sugar source and then we redistill with nine botanicals. For our vodka, a late summer release, we will use non-GMO single-malt barley."
In addition to organic ingredients, another key for Cross was staying in the Ogden Valley. "We are nestled between the resorts on the most beautiful land in the state. We enjoy year-round tourism and recreation. We felt that this was where we wanted to grow. And the community in Eden has been very receptive. During our construction and licensing phrases people often asked why we weren't doing this in Ogden. Now that we are open, we often hear, Tthank you for doing this in Eden!' Businesses up here often struggle, and our hope is that business brings business."
A destination for tourists and locals alike, New World Distillery fits "the look and feel of the community," Cross says. "And we have a really nice welcoming retail front with tables and stools where people can see the distillery through the glass. We are definitely a manufacturing facility."
New World Distillery offers tours to visitors and a quick education on the industry. "We have a whole segment of the tour where we discuss how to read a bottle and how reading a label allows you to know to what degree you are really supporting a local company. Labels are important," Cross adds.
The distillery's spirits are available in Utah. "That's our choice," Cross says. "Moving our product outside of Utah is not our current business model. This is where we live. Utah is in our ingredients, it's in our branding. I want to be a Utah product. I understand why some of my peers are using out-of-state distributors. It is easier to get placed out of state. That's wrong and frustrating, and something we have to look at."
Challenges: Paperwork. "The amount of reports that have to be filed with the federal and state government and insurance companies -- that is a thing I underestimated," says Cross. "It's complex."
Opportunities: The Bower Spirits Project. Just recently launched, it's a limited membership opportunity with New World Distillery to get first dibs on new or one-off releases. "I had no idea how it would go over," Cross admits, "but within 24 hours we had 30 members. I think that is exciting. It is a means of staying in touch with people who want to be supportive and loyal. We can get to know them better and cater to them."
Needs: Production time. Agave ferments run a long time, and New World Distillery is doing double ferments for back-to-back runs. "We also mellow spirits before bottling them, which is not common in the craft industry," adds Cross. "Our strict resting period makes a difference in flavor and aroma, and we are committed to protecting the reputation of being craft."