There was a time, in the not-so-distant-past, when it would have been nearly unfathomable to imagine distilled alcohol products being commercially produced in Utah. So it's been pretty exciting to sit back and watch the growth of local distilleries over the past few years. While High West Distillery was a contemporary trailblazer, and gets most of the press, other smaller independent distilleries are popping up quicker than you can say "liquor."
One of the pioneers of our boozy renaissance is Ogden's Own Distillery. Located, as you might surmise, in Ogden and founded by owner Timothy Smith, it's best known for its Underground Herbal Spirit, Five Wives Vodka and Porter's Fire, and has gone from producing for an in-the-know few, to distributing in 13 states—from Alaska to Tennessee and Alabama to Idaho—plus its products are available to purchase online.
In a 2009 City Weekly interview, Smith recounted his deeply religious upbringing—including living in the parsonage of a Texas Pentecostal church—and making his first batch of homemade booze at 12 years old after discovering his grandfather's moonshine still hidden in a forest. Today, their products have won awards, and are quite respected by the booze cognoscenti.
I'm a fan of Underground Herbal Spirit ($19.99), myself. Technically, it's a liqueur, defined as having a minimum 2.5 percent added sugar by weight. However, many popular liqueurs exceed 20 percent. Named for the tunnel system that runs beneath the streets of downtown Ogden, it was initially conceived by Smith as a type of absinthe, and contains a small amount of wormwood. But the obvious comparison for this distinctly herbal concoction—which incorporates cassia, angostura, anise, cardamom, gentian, yarrow, mate, guarana, ginseng, molasses, orange oil, lemon oil, spearmint, pure cane sugar, agave and plum—is to Jagermeister.
I think Underground is actually better than Jager, not to mention cheaper. And I'm not the only person who thinks so. The liqueur was awarded a Double-Gold Medal at San Francisco's 2010 World Spirits Competition, and was also selected as "Best Liqueur in the Americas" at the 2012 Spirits of the Americas Competition. It's subtler, and doesn't have the cloying sweetness of Jagermeister, despite being 80-proof while Jager is 70. The high proof and low sugar content makes it a good mixer in cocktails. I like it with a little whiskey, as a substitute for the vermouth in a Manhattan.
In 2011, Smith introduced Five Wives Vodka ($19.95). In the Idaho market, however, it was a bit of a problem initially. The Gem State banned it in 2012, saying that the label might offend Mormons and women. Ironically, Utah didn't have a problem with the depiction of pioneer women in petticoats holding kittens in front of their crotches. Eventually, the ban was lifted, and now Idaho is one of the distillery's best markets.
Since then, they've added Fives Wives Sinful Vodka ($17.95)—with cinnamon and vanilla flavors—to the lineup, along with cream-and-vanilla-flavored Five Wives Heavenly Vodka ($17.95) and Porter's Peach ($18.99).
Cinnamon liqueurs have been the rage for a while now, and Ogden's Own joined the spicy fray in 2014 with Porter's Fire ($16.99), whose name was inspired by Orrin Porter Rockwell—considered to be Joseph Smith's bodyguard and "enforcer." The 67-proof blend of Canadian whiskey is infused with natural vanilla and cinnamon flavors. Once again, Ogden's Own has produced a well-balanced, spicy-and-sweet (but not too sweet) liqueur that's a pleasure to sip—straight up, on ice, or in cocktails.