Even the Driest Towns Can Have Innovative Distillers

Salt Lake City is a pioneer town owing its foundation to the brave men and women who broke the trail to this fertile valley in the 1800s. But, when it comes to spirits, the land has grown into a valley of unrest.

In the ides of August 2021, I visited a local distillery about 15 minutes southwest of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, called Hammer Spring. It’s inconspicuous, nestled in the corner of Highway 201 and Highway 154 in an industrial block of warehouses. Stretching across the back street leading to the distillery, a dip spans from curb to curb, marred with years of speeding trucks’ undercarriages gouging the asphalt.

Despite each building in the area being identically manufactured, Hammer Spring stands out because of the rustic bench outside placed beside twin oak barrels charred black with the letters: HS.

Black powder rifles and revolvers line rough-hewn oak shelves. There are barrels and rusted wheels beside the register and leaning tiredly against the walls. The cash register sits on a counter spirited from Butch Cassidy’s favorite saloon. If not for the modern and comfortable clothing of JP, Hammer Springs’ Master Distiller, along with the numerous awards imposingly hung on the walls of, I would have feared that wormholes leading to lost eras were more common than hypothesized.

Hammer Spring: a symbol and a story. Hammers represent hard work, sweat, progress and creation. Springs are a source of water, and a hammer spring is a rifle component. The rifle conquered the American wilderness and made settling places like Utah feasible. It’s a metaphor for innovation and taking steps into new territory.

JP sees himself as a pioneer boldly facing the untrodden barrens of the industrialized Salt Lake Valley. He takes great pride in being the first in Utah to commercially ferment potatoes for his vodka as opposed to corn or other grains. The potatoes are locally sourced from Chris Karren’s Farm, a quiet flatland in Northern Utah, just below the Idaho border. And the grains used for his bourbon are sourced regionally from Utah and a few surrounding states.

He is a leader in a harsh industry. It’s no secret that the alcohol trade is ripe with adversity in Utah’s culture. The laws are strict for both production and distribution. Consumers are required to purchase drinks above 4% alcohol from a state-owned liquor depot. Trying to persuade those stores to carry your product is like threshing wheat by hand.

Despite the challenges his distillery has faced, JP was able to build an elegant and successful business in Salt Lake City. Hammer Spring is the 14th distillery with a foothold in the land of dry counties––innovating and striving toward a hopeful future in the valley so that people can freely express themselves artistically with grain and alcohol.

I share many of JP’s ideals: I support local businesses; he collaborates with Hidden Vodka to fight human trafficking; and we both have a bright outlook for the future.

So, when the day arrives where crafting spirits becomes respected by Utah’s legislature and embraced by the public, we will have JP and Hammer Spring to thank for blazing the trail.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for reading.