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For perhaps the first time, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Thursday issued a special use permit for an individual to distill small portions of whiskey.
"We just granted a license for a still," said Earl Dorius, the commission's head of licensing and compliance. "I don't think there's ever been such a permit."
The permit allows David Perkins, 40, of Park City, to develop his own recipe for whiskey. He moved a $10,000 pot still from Germany into a building near downtown Salt Lake City, but could not use the apparatus to distill alcohol from fermented liquid mixtures until he acquired both federal and state licenses.
Perkins already has received his federal permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Anyone firing up a still without those permits could face 10 years in federal prison.
"My goal is to set up a distillery in Park City that will make high-end whiskeys," said Perkins. "It'll be a long process."
Perkins will experiment with combinations of wheat, corn, barley, oats and rye to come up with the desired mix of ingredients for his final product. The grains will be ground into flour and boiled, much like beer. He then will add a special yeast to the mash before pouring it into the stainless-steel and brass still, where vapors are condensed into a more purified form.
The clear liquid that comes out of the still's spout is called "white dog" in Kentucky, whose Bourbon County is namesake for what Congress designated in 1964 as America's official drink. It's dubbed moonshine when that clear liquid comes out of an illegal, homemade still.
Whiskey gets its color and flavor from the barrels in which it's aged, said Perkins. By law, the form of whiskey known as bourbon must be aged in new charred white oak barrels, much like some small ones Perkins brought to Utah from Kentucky.
Depending on the spirits, the aging process can take two to 10 years.
"I'm committed," Perkins said of his willingness to wait. "Sure I could lose my shirt, or better yet I could come up with a good product in a business that few people can break into."
Perkins' privately held company is called Quaking Aspen Distillery. He hasn't yet decided on a name for the spirits he'll distill with consultation from master distillers out of Kentucky.
It makes sense for a distillery in Utah, Perkins added, noting that whiskey has been present in Utah since shortly after the mid-19th Century arrival of Mormon pioneers.
For instance, the old East Temple street in Salt Lake City was nicknamed "Whiskey Street" because of its many saloons. It wasn't until 1906 that the boulevard was officially renamed "Main Street."
Also, Utah became the deciding state to repeal Prohibition in 1933 when the Legislature voted in favor of the 21st Amendment.
"Whiskey was always a dominant factor in the West," Perkins added. "Don't forget what a cowboy asked for whenever he wanted a drink."