Craft spirit chemists

By on December 16, 2014
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Travis Goodman (left), with his preferred beverage, a dry gin martini, and Chas Marsh with his poison, whiskey. Photo by Sargent Schutt

 

Libation-lovin’ locals to open Jackson Hole’s first distillery

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – In a valley where we import more than 90 percent of our food, a locavore movement is on the rise. Soon this culture – which encourages folks to imbibe on local edibles for their health, the health of the environment and the local economy – will extend to boozier realms.

On the heels of a local foods feature published last week in The Planet (“Raising Locavores,” Dec. 10, 2013) entrepreneurs Travis Goodman and Chas Marsh announced they are opening Jackson Hole’s first distillery.

Jackson Hole Still Works’ handcrafted spirit roster will include vodka, gin and whiskey slated for distribution throughout the Cowboy State with plans to later infiltrate other markets. Some of the saucy details, however, remain shrouded in secrecy, such as the distillery’s 3,000-square-foot location, where tours and tastings will be on the menu.

What we do know is that the duo plans to open in May 2015 with bottles on the shelves by June and, most importantly, that these guys know their booze. Talking liquids with Goodman and Marsh, who are keen on making spirits unique to Jackson Hole at an affordable price point, is not only enlightening but also, somehow, inspiring.

“Our experiences up until now have led us to develop a palate and an appreciation for high-quality spirits,” said Goodman, who hand-sold bottles of wine at Jackson Hole Wine Company and remained at the location when it became Bin 22. “So much of what is out there is mass produced and you can taste that … one thing that really led us into this endeavor is seeing that there is a market for high-quality, small-batch, locally produced artisanal spirits.”

Tending bar alongside Goodman not too long ago, this reporter can attest to his intuitive sense for libations and liquor. Specialty cocktails at the hands of Goodman, who also founded a custom wine cellar business, resonate with discerning palates. (A holiday elixir, the Fancy Freak, which Goodman concocted last winter for Bin 22, comes to mind.) Similarly, get Marsh talking about anything liquid related, from his home-brewing ventures to the cornucopia of botanicals that comprise a good gin and it’s not difficult to pinpoint the passion compelling this pair. Still, it’s been an arduous, intoxicated road.

Bureaucratic boozing

The two longtime friends have been toiling over Jackson Hole Still Works for the past eight months, visiting distilleries across the country, attending a distillery school, reading myriad books, touring commercial spaces in the valley and navigating the thick red tape involved in landing a distillery license.

Most cumbersome of these tasks is decidedly applying for the license, which seems more like vying for a spot in the Secret Service. Goodman and Marsh were required to have everything in place before the application process commenced, from purchasing the steel and copper still to securing a property. After all, the feds (local and state government present very few hurdles) are looking for reassurance that prospective candidates mean business before the background checks ensue. We’re talking background checks that dive into your past, your brother’s, mother’s and ex-girlfriend’s past, your former jobs, every address where you’ve laid your head to sleep, your bank records, and, in this day in age, presumably what you search for on the Google machine. Why is the government fixated on this info before they’ll consider doling out a license? Well perhaps “because alcohol is a monstrous revenue generator for the federal government,” explained business-minded Marsh, a recent MBA graduate from University of Denver.

Indeed, beverage alcohol products rank among the highest-taxed consumer items available, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The Council also points out that for every dollar earned by producers, wholesalers, and retailers for the sale of beer, wine and spirits, government at all levels earns two dollars.

Grains in your glass

Beyond the owners’ squeaky-clean histories, perhaps most notable about Jackson Hole’s first distillery is that it will introduce to the valley a concept called grain to glass. This means that Goodman and Marsh will have total control over every aspect of the distillation process from fermentation to mashing regionally sourced grains, expelling the alcohol, distillation, aging and bottling. No stage of the process is farmed to an outside company that’s potentially miles away. As a result, consumers may glean a broader appreciation for the ingredients and labor involved in the process. And when it comes to grain to glass operations, many argue that the individual attention paid to the process yields a better product.

The pair’s business model includes sourcing local and regional ingredients, from the valley’s pristine water supply to the rye, wheat and corn used to make vodka and the barley used to make whiskey. Wyoming, Marsh explained, is a key barley producer in the United States, ranking eighth in the nation. “We plan to work closely with Wyoming farmers,” he said.

Included in the pair’s blueprint is to also work with local nonprofits, particularly environmentally focused organizations, donating a portion of their profits to groups working to protect the resources integral to their outdoor lifestyles and production process.

In addition to licensing, Goodman noted that commercial zoning hoopla, finances and competition with liquor company giants have each presented a different set of challenges.

“It’s an extremely difficult business to enter into,” he said. “The spirits market is dominated by large multinational companies, – Absolut, Grey Goose, Belvedere – companies that have no real sense of place. We want to give people the choice to enjoy a locally produced quality American product.”

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Booze beta 

Do you know the distance your spirits travel to make it in your glass? We know where many Irish and Scotch whiskeys originate, so let’s look at some  clear concoctions.

– The popular Grey Goose, owned by Bacardi, journeys from France to wet your martini glass

– Poland provides us with Belvedere

– Absolut hails from Sweden

– Ketel One is a product of the Netherlands

– Stoli makes the trek from Russia

– Tanqeray hops the pond from the UK along with Bombay Sapphire, also a Bacardi-owned beverage

– Hendrick’s Gin mixes with your cucumbers by way of Scotland

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

2 Comments

  1. Tim

    December 19, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Robyn,

    I think a mention of Grand Teton Distillery over in Driggs might have been worth a mention. They are the number 1 rated American made vodka in the world, artisan crafted from Idaho potatoes. Local potatoes, distilled and bottled on site. Can’t get more locavore than that!

  2. Brenden

    December 20, 2014 at 8:32 am

    GTD makes vodka. They make nice vodka. And they have gotten plenty of newsprint around the valley.

    Jackson Hole Still Works’ lineup, apparently, will include vodka, gin and whiskey. And it is located in Jackson.

    That’s MORE locavore – in product and location.

    No doubt locals will dish out hard-earned money for JHSW’s products just like people do for Wyoming Whiskey and GTD’s vodka.

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