Within the field of archeology, one of the most distressing concepts is the unfathomable amount of lost history. While traces of physical entities such as the Irish Crown Jewels, Roanoke Colony, and Amelia Earhart’s airplane may resurface in the future, an extraordinary number of intangible concepts have disappeared forever—namely languages, cultures and cuisines. Therefore, countless organizations and private businesses race to preserve the legacy of these cultural treasures, and one prominent entity is Waterpocket Distillery, founded in 2017 by Julia and Alan Scott and located just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Since founding the distillery, the Scotts have been working tirelessly to resurrect long-forgotten European liqueurs, recreating and releasing these bygone spirits through their Long Lost line. Julia’s doctorate in biochemistry and Alan’s background in home-brewing have made the pair uniquely qualified for such an endeavor, and years spent living in Central Europe have allowed the couple to amass a collection of rare botanicals and historic recipes. “When the time came to open the distillery, like many others, we first looked to gin. So when we turned to research the fundamentals of botanical spirits… we found a rich set of resources from 19th-century France, Germany and Italy,” Alan tells us.
While these antiquated recipes may have been recovered, the cultural intricacies that birthed them have largely ceased to exist. The distillery’s fragrant all-botanical liqueur, Oread, stems from a collection of recipes crafted centuries ago. The inspiration for this spirit can be traced back to Danzig, a prominent city on the northern shores of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the settlement was a rich melting pot of European cultures, with prominent German, Polish, Baltic, Dutch, and Scottish populations inhabiting the city. Among them were a faction of Mennonite priests, and it was this particular group that crafted a wide array of botanical-rich spirits. While Goldwasser has survived, many of its cohorts have been lost to the ages.
Recreating such obscure products may seem like a monumental task, but the Scotts are well-prepared. Equipped with 80+ different botanicals, the Waterpocket property is as much a laboratory as it is a distillery. At the moment, there are over 40 of these botanicals represented in the Long Lost product line—a collection that includes the aforementioned Oread, as well as Eau De Mélisse (a spirit first crafted by Carmelite worshippers centuries ago), and Minthe (a 19th-century dessert liqueur from Milan). Considering the pair’s expertise within the fields of history and biochemistry, it’s likely that this laundry list of botanicals will see a sharp increase over the next few years.
While the products are masterfully crafted, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to convince casual drinkers to sample an 18th-century botanical-heavy liqueur invented by Mennonites. “Historical botanical spirits are a niche of niche market. They require explanation, a tasting, and some education to contextualize them for most customers. They often sit in the miscellaneous section of the liquor store (in other words, in the wilderness). Regardless of our passions, we do other projects to keep the lights on,” Alan says. Fortunately for Waterpocket, the Long Lost line has begun to catch on across the local Salt Lake City bar scene, with a wide array of bars incorporating the spirits into their cocktails.
It takes true devotion to parse through historic documents, calculate the ideal ratio of ingredients, and get the final product to catch on within the public eye, but the Scotts are truly determined to make this work. “The basic concept of widening the flavor base of American botanical spirits beyond juniper and juniper-complementary botanicals is a worthwhile longterm project,” Alan tells us. “Those are valid colors in the wider rainbow, so to speak… with appeal to human tastebuds and noses. It will eventually grow in popularity and I think we’ll find ourselves in a place like craft beer, where it’s hard to imagine going back to only pilsner or light lagers.”
Hero image courtesy of Mitch Meyer