Pleasant Grove • He is a software consultant. She is a sixth grade teacher.
When they’re not working those day jobs, they’re inside a brand new warehouse in one of the state’s most conservative communities distilling spirits that don’t fall into traditional vodka-gin-whiskey categories.
Matt and Stephanie Eau Claire are clearly unconventional — dare we say defiant?
In March, when the coronavirus was shutting down most businesses, the couple launched Clear Water Distilling Co. in Pleasant Grove — officially becoming Utah County’s first legal distillery.
There probably was “plenty of moonshine” being produced in the area before and during Prohibition — and possibly in the century since it ended, said Stephanie. But there are no paper records that show a legal commercial operation in the state’s second-most populous county, where the majority of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So the Eau Claires — whose last name means “clear water” in French — get the distinction.
“Originally, we wanted to put the distillery in Lehi, where we live,” Matt said, “just as a matter of convenience.”
But finding a building that had the proper zoning requirements ultimately led them to the large space in Pleasant Grove’s new Clear Lake development at 564 W. 700 South.
The city was accommodating and Councilwoman Cyd LeMone even gave them a warm greeting on Facebook.
“Join me in welcoming Clear Water Distillery Co. . to Pleasant Grove! Their business is the first of its kind in Utah County,” she wrote, adding, “I love that we have a variety of businesses and entrepreneurs placing their roots in our community.”
It’s just one more sign that the Utah County is growing up. In 2016, Strap Tank Brewing opened Utah County’s first modern-day brewery in Springville. It has since opened a second location in Lehi.
And recently, Provo changed its zoning laws to allow restaurants to brew beer on-site.
The small-batch spirits Clear Water produces are just as surprising as its location.
Lorenz, named for Danish Arctic explorer Lorenz Peter Freuchen, is a cinnamon rum made with molassesand piloncillo, a raw sugar cane imported from Mexico. Before bottling, Matt — who also is the head distiller — vapor infuses it with cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans.
Earlier this year, it won a silver medal in the 2020 Bartender Spirit Awards.
The Eau Claires like to drink Lorenz neat — without any mixers. But, they say, its versatile, fruity flavor works in traditional rum-based drinks, like a coconut and pineapple daiquiri or a cherry cola. They’ve also heard from customers that when mixed with lemon-lime soda, it tastes like apple pie.
The distillery’s most unique product is an unaged fruit brandy (“eau de vie” in French). It’s a blend of six fruits and rose wine, and is named after another independent spirit — entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker.
“The best way to describe it,” said Matt, “is if scotch and brandy had a baby.”
Josephine is more labor intensive to produce, and Clear Water has nearly sold out of its initial batch.
Natalie Hamilton, a manager at Salt Lake City’s Under Current bar, is a fan. “It has a really good flavor on its own,” she said. “It has almost a whiskey vibe to it — but lighter.”
Clear Water spirits are sold in 30 states and counting, said Stephanie, though the only place to purchase a bottle in Utah is at the distillery. Lorenz sells for $33 a bottle, while Josephine is $60.
The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has not yet to approved the products for sale in liquor stores — even though there’s a state-run outlet just a half-mile down the road from the distillery.
The couple is willing to be patient, said Matt. “We’re already struggling to keep up with sales,” which got a boost earlier this year, when Clear Water was named Utah Distillery of the Year at the New York Spirits Competition.
It’s one reason Clear Water launched a regulated crowdfunding campaign, approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, to raise capital for future expansion. So far, regular consumers have invested more than $420,000 of the $1.07 million goal.
“The funding will provide us operating capital and help us upgrade equipment,” said Matt, who along with Stephanie and two other co-owners do all the work — including filling and labeling every bottle by hand.
The capital may also allow them to eventually quit their day jobs.
Matt, 46, was born in Ohio, and Stephanie, 43, is a Michigan native. They lived in numerous places around the country before settling in Utah, where Matt works in software and Stephanie in education.
Several years ago, a friend introduced Matt to some “really, really good scotch” — which kick-started an interest in whiskey, and then tequila, and then other spirits. “Basically,” he said, “I found myself appreciating the art and craft of it.”
When a group of friends bought him a still as a Christmas gift, Matt began researching how to use it, quickly discovering it was illegal to make distilled spirits without federal and state permits.
From there, “things snowballed” and the couple was making test batches and looking for a place to launch a distillery, where they could be creative.
“Spirits are an agricultural product, just like wine, and the ingredients you use will vary from season to season. We want to embrace that,” said Matt. “That’s what we like about having a small-batch distillery: You don’t have to make something that fits into a category.”
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune