Q: What inspired you to do a piece on alcohol in Utah?
It was probably actual alcohol that inspired me, to be honest.
The best thing about being a documentary filmmaker is that I am able to explore subjects that ultimately interest me. The topic of alcohol in Utah is rife with controversy, characters and conflict, which is the essence of any good story. Couple that with Utah's rich history and you have an innately unique tale. I love living in Salt Lake, I enjoy Utah and I am really interested in finding out more about where I live, and this was a subject that I knew would keep me thirsting for knowledge (pun intended).
Q: What surprising things did you learn about the making of beer/wine/whiskey while making this documentary?
Making a high quality product is always a challenge, but alcohol is even more so. It isn't simply following a recipe in a cookbook, it is a perfect blending of chemistry and biology, unique ingredients and perfect timing. Making whiskey isn't only difficult, it's dangerous - it is flammable after all. The three guys that we profile in the film are constantly striving to make a better product, to come out with new tastes and flavors. It was delightful to watch art and science meld together and come out in a form that is tasty and refreshing.
Q: Utah’s historical attitudes towards alcohol are sometimes the opposite of what people assume they are. What are some of the surprising historical facts that the documentary deals with?
What surprised me most was finding out just how much alcohol was made and consumed in pre-prohibition Utah. The state was awash in beer, wine and whiskey. Miners drank, homesteaders drank and Mormons drank, and they drank a lot. The breweries in Salt Lake were massive structures that employed hundreds of people and churned out hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer. Wagners Brewing Company encompassed one and a half city blocks, that is larger than the entire Library Square today. But my favorite historical tidbit is that after 1857 Main Street was known as "whiskey street" due to its high volume of saloons. One can only imagine what it must have been like to walk down that street on a Friday evening.
Q: Talk about the historical relationship the LDS church has had with alcohol.
Shortly after the Saints arrived in the Utah territory there arose contentions regarding alcohol, and a lot of those issues remain today. Back in the early days, Mormons were allowed to imbibe, the Word of Wisdom was more of a "suggestion". It was common for members of the church to pay their titihing in wine, which the church-owned ZCMI would then sell back to them. Regardless, church leader and governor Brigham Young deplored spirituous liquors, but allowed the practice to continue because of the massive amount of revenue that it brought to the states coffers. In fact, in 1870, two-thirds of the state's revenue came from the sale of alcohol. So on one hand, the church discouraged the use of alcohol, but on the other, they recognized that without the taxation from alcohol, the state might not have flourished as it did during it's early years.
Today, just like 140 years ago, the church recognizes the large amount of money alcohol brings to the state, which is estimated at $300 million dollars every year, and that doesn't take into account the amount of jobs it produces and the tourism is maintains. So the legislature, which is predominantly LDS, is still at odds between limiting alcohol and enjoying the funds it delivers to their budget.
In the past few years we have seen great advances toward the easement of alcohol in this state, and the reason for it, I believe, is the recession. One of the ways that the state can make up for lost revenue is to open more restaurants, bars and make it easier to get a drink. This has many folks raising their glasses in cheer, but may also have the Church wringing their hands.
Q: How did the three men you profiled seem to feel towards the prohibitive legislation in this state?
Each of them has had their battles with the Utah legislature, some more than others. In 1986 when Greg Schirf wanted to open Wasatch Brewery he had to take it directly to the capitol and fight for a license. Years later, Colin Fryer fought the state on the exorbitant amount of tax that his winery was forced to pay. However, David Perkins claims that he had little trouble opening High West Distillery. So it varies upon the time and place. Utah is considered a "pro-business" state, but most purveyors of alcohol feel that their businesses are unduly restricted compared to other entities. While they are pleased to see the state slowly loosening their restrictive alcohol laws, there is still a long way to go before we are in line with the rest of the country.
Q: As a filmmaker, what message do you hope to convey with this documentary?
This is really more of a lighthearted character piece than one with a social message, and Jennilyn and I tried not to force one. But if an unintended message did arise it is " take a risk". I have an innate respect for anyone that elects to do something unconventional and daring, be it climbing a mountain, curing a disease or making wine in Utah. Each of the individuals that we profile in the film had the idea of starting their business on something of a whim, and none of them had experience in making alcohol, it was just something they thought would be fun to do, and they wanted to do it in Utah. So far, it has worked out well for each of them. There is something to be commended for that.
Q: How did you avoid getting into the controversial politics of such a touchy subject?
The topic of alcohol in Utah is a touchy one for many people, on both sides of the fence. The contemporary politics are fierce and ever-changing and the passions run deep. While that might make a great film, we elected to tell a more obscure story, that of the political history of alcohol in Utah. Frankly, we feel that story is much more interesting.
Q: Do you think the beer/wine/whiskey made in Utah can hold up to the beer/wine/whiskey made anywhere in the world?
Twenty years ago, if you wanted a chocolate bar, you ate Hershey's, if you wanted a beer, you drank a Coors. But today, there are so many great varieties of flavors and brands of all consumables. People are demanding it, and it's the local crafters that are nourishing this movement. Those that create alcohol in Utah are no different.
If there is one thing I know about Utahan’s, it’s that we prefer high-quality products. We frequent local restaurants and businesses, we eat home grown food and we truly care about good taste. When visiting the crafters of alcohol in this state, we discovered that they really are at the forefront of making fine products. They go the extra mile to make something that they can be proud of, and the rest of the country is starting to take notice. As a frequent traveler, there is nothing I love more than visiting a bar in a large city and ordering a High West Whiskey from my home state.
Q: These manufacturers are interesting characters. How do you think their personalities have contributed to their success?
There are many attributes that can ensure success, but passion is hard to beat. These guys really love what they do, they love the product they make, they love to sell it and they love to drink it. When you watch the film, it is evident. To them, they aren't just creating a beverage, they are making the world a better place with their products, they truly believe that.