Step through the doors of West Valley’s Waterpocket Distillery and you might think you’ve walked into the lab of a mad scientist. Glass beakers, high-tech evaporators and jars upon jars of herbs, spices and dried flowers line shelves inside the warehouse. This little corner of curiosities is where co-founder and craft distiller Alan Scott spends countless hours refining recipes. But they aren’t just any boozy recipes. Scott combines his passion for flavor and his wife/co-founder’s background in chemical engineering with the art of ancient botanical distillation to create one-of-a-kind products.
In addition to his title as mad scientist, Scott is also a historian of spirits. His quest for unique botanical elixirs led him to the middle ages, where he discovered an overlap between medicinal and aromatic ingredients. “I learned of the Mennonites who sought refuge from religious persecution in the 15th century,” says Scott. “They couldn’t work in traditional guilds so they essentially founded a distillery in the Free City of Danzig.” As one of the earliest examples of aesthetically-driven distillation, the Mennonites formed what’s known as the Danziger tradition. They crafted a pantheon of spirits including Goldwasser, a gold-fleck herbal spirit. Despite their influence, by the 1800s most of the Mennonites’ Danziger recipes were lost to time—until now. “In almost every case, something like this hasn’t been made in hundreds of years.”
So, how does one go about recreating a forgotten spirit made with ancient ingredients and techniques? “Well, it’s a lot of reading,” says Scott. “You’ve got to translate from the original language as it was back in that day and age—terms will change, measurement systems change and the world has changed.” Scott has tracked down authors in 19th century Milan and 17th century France who reference the same spirit in 10 different interpretations. “When I get into the lab it’s a lot of trial and error to find out what works,” he explains. “In some cases, you have to make a leap of faith.” One such leap of faith led to Waterpocket’s flagship product Oread, a full-strength botanical blend of star anise, orange peel, chamomile and other aromatic roots. Waterpocket’s lineup of Long Lost spirits now includes four distinct products like Minthe—a recreation of 19th-century Milanese dessert liqueur.
Scott’s craft has done more than unearth bygone distilling traditions, he’s also redefining what we’ve come to define as a botanical spirit. Cocktail lounges and dive bars across the country are stocking their shelves with Waterpocket’s unique lineup. Instead of reaching for gin, bartenders are reaching for Oread or Minthe, to reimagine classic cocktails with complex instantaneous flavor. And as consumers try something new, they’re also connecting with a piece of history and a piece of themselves. “I often say to people when they ask about something they believe is exotic like Kummel, ‘this is your heritage.’” Despite being lost to time or neglected by modern American craft distillers, Scott’s reincarnations of the past are reconnecting people with their ancestral drinking traditions.
Look for Waterpocket the next time you’re in the liquor store, or visit their distillery and tasting room to see the mad scientist himself at work. Waterpocket has also opened a new distillery and tasting room in Torrey, Utah. Visit their site and socials for more information.
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