Beehive Distilling's Spirit of the Hop bottle next to a glass of whiskey.

Hopped Spirits: A COVID-Inspired Effort To Save Beer

Beer & Spirits

Sugar House Distillery
2212 S W Temple St #14, South Salt Lake
Mon–Fri 10 a.m.–6 p.m. || 801.726.0403

Beehive Distilling
2245 S W Temple St, South Salt Lake
Tue–Thu 4–10 p.m. • Fri 4–11 p.m. • Sat 2–11 p.m.
385.259.0252 ||

James Fowler of Sugar House Distillery stands with a glass among barrels of whiskey.
Sugar House Distillery’s owner and founder, James Fowler. Photo: Jess Gruneisen

In the spring of 2020, amidst grocery store brawls over toilet paper and endless Zoom meetings, hundreds of kegs of craft beer across Utah sat untapped, approaching their expiration date. In an effort to save the beer, local breweries reached out to grainto-glass distilleries, such as Beehive Distilling and Sugar House Distillery, offering them kegs to turn into distilled spirits. Because while beer may spoil, spirits do not.

Chris Barlow, one of the co-owners of Beehive Distilling, stands in front of distilling apparatus with a beehive logo.
Chris Barlow, one of the co-owners of Beehive Distilling. Photo: Jess Gruneisen

In between batches of hand sanitizer for first responders and vulnerable groups, Sugar House Distillery made a few rounds of hopped spirits with their next spirit rendition, Experimental Series #2, which released this October. Made from kegs of a doppelbock from a local brewery, Sugar House Distillery distilled the beer, then aged it in six used American Oak Char No. 3 barrels—three bourbon and three rye— for a total of three years and 82 days. The hopped spirit is 108 proof and features the delicate sweet and fruity notes found in German-style malty beers with an added caramel color from the barrels.

“I knew it would be weird, but we might as well throw it in [the still] and see what the hell happens.”

“We just didn’t know what to expect,” says James Fowler, founder and owner of Sugar House Distillery. “The reason they’re sending it to us is because they can’t sell it. [We thought] well, we could try to make whiskey out of it, and that’s going to be years down the road. Let’s still try to capture something from it.”

Similarly, Beehive Distillery took 150 various kegs from Uinta Brewing Co. that were in danger of being dumped and distilled them together to create their Spirit of The Hop. After it was run through the still multiple times, the clear spirit was then aged in three new American Oak barrels for just under three years. The 100 proof hopped spirit, colloquially called “beerskey,” features subtle herbal and floral hop notes, adding complexity and sweetness to the classic oak bite of an American whiskey. Spirit of The Hop was released in May 2023 in 550 glass bottles featuring a honeycomb pattern.

“I knew it would be weird, but we might as well throw it in [the still] and see what the hell happens,” says Chris Barlow, one of the founders and co-owners of Beehive Distilling. “It tasted really funky right off the still, but it mellowed out a lot in the barrel.” While this was Beehive’s first foray into hopped spirits and distilling beer, the journey was nearly identical to their whiskey-making process. “Whiskey is essentially beer,” Barlow says. “It’s usually a different grain, unless you’re doing a wheat whiskey or a barley whiskey, but it’s essentially the same process.” While neither spirit can technically be called a whiskey due to the addition of hops, these “distilled spirit specialty beverages” honor the techniques of American whiskey in unique liquors that can’t be recreated. “We never work with hops in the distilling world; hops are [used] to flavor beer, not spirits,” says Fowler. “But the smell that was coming off the still was so floral—the most incredible thing you’ve
ever smelled.”

“It tasted really funky right off the still, but it mellowed out a lot in the barrel.”

Sugar House Distillery and Beehive Distilling each offer lineups of spirits and canned cocktails featuring local ingredients such as corn and grains grown in Utah and Southern Idaho. Both distilleries proudly distill their own spirits on-site with their grain-to-glass method, collaborating with other local distilleries, breweries, farmers and companies. Their collaborations with local breweries during the pandemic exemplify the camaraderie of Utah’s brewing and distilling community, as well as the passion for the craft both Fowler and Barlow display.

Sugar House Distillery’s Experimental Series #2 and Beehive Distilling’s Spirit of The Hop can be purchased at their respective on-site stores for $69.99 each. Both are available in limited quantities.

Read more on local breweries and distilleries:
Designing a Brand With Strap Tank Brewery 
Appreciating the Outdoors One Brew at a Time