VoyageUtah interviews Ashley Cross!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Cross.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In 2013, after 23 years in public education, I told my husband that I was burned out and needed a “new world.” We had always discussed the idea of doing something in the distilling industry as a post-retirement venture, but my decision not to return to the classroom for year 24 accelerated and altered that idea somewhat. We began to turn a hobby into a more dedicated endeavor and took as many courses and classes as we could handle: Everything from architectural design of a distillery to fire suppression and safety, to distilling spirits ranging from vodka to gin to agave spirits and everything in between.

Our leisure travels to Europe and Mexico became a study. We broke ground in March of 2016 and opened in December. Today, we remain the only distillery in the state of Utah distilling agave spirits and we have a very rare vodka distilled from agave as well. Our Oomaw Gin is a top-selling craft gin in the state of Utah and is responsible for converting a lot of people who previously claimed that they were nongin drinkers to imbibers. The R&D for our Oomaw Gin spanned about 1.5 years and involved a few trips to The Netherlands where our equipment and much of our training originated. Even though I said I was done with teaching, we taught Advanced Distilling courses the first three years that we were open.

Our instructional team was comprised of distillers from several countries and our courses were filled with international students, most of who were educating themselves to open their own distilleries. After three years, we decided that the instructional component of our operations interfered with the production schedule so we stopped our courses. We added a line of seasonal apple brandies, our super-popular Wasatch Blossom Utah Tart Cherry Liqueur, and our Ogden Nine Rails Bourbon Whiskey. In 2019, we were awarded Best Tour in Northern Utah by the Standard-Examiner Readers’ Choice Campaign, and then in 2020 Covid hit. We suspended all tours and tastings in March of 2020.

While our retail shop is open daily, Tuesday – Saturday, 11- 6, our tours have not resumed. We remain committed to slowing the spread of Covid-19 and protecting our small, rural community and staff. We carry a number of small, hand-crafted mixers, tonics, and bitters, most of which are locally made. We have cocktail recipes and a fun and friendly staff to welcome our visitors. We have a glass wall that separates our retail from the production floor so that folks can still see where the magic happens even if they are not in the back.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It is never a smooth road when opening a liquor-related business in the controlled state of Utah. We’ve had struggles with shelf placement, stocking at state stores, and relying on the DABC to place consistent orders so that our brand remains available and accessible to both the public as well as bars and restaurants. I would say that we were just about at that precipice of feeling like we had reached a good place when Covid hit. We immediately went from a staff of 7 to a staff of 2.

Bars and restaurants closed or went to reduced capacity so we lost the flow of product through those avenues as well. Events, festivals, and other such gatherings disappeared. None of the earlier, logistical struggles could have ever prepared us for the changes that Covid forced upon us. Currently, supply chain issues related to glass, toppers, and other time-critical items are our latest stress. Our local community, both in Eden as well as statewide has remained loyal and supportive. We are very tightly knitted to our small community in terms of our green processes that protect our resources.

We recycle 100% of our chilling water and our electrical equipment is powered by solar. These were obstacles related to responsible stewardship that we investigated and conquered early on in the development phases of our business. Covid threw us a loop that we never could have anticipated and we are just doing the best we can to stay afloat during these crazy times.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
In the liquor industry, a craft distillery has to distinguish itself by always putting something in a bottle that is better than “big booze.” We are best known for the above-top-shelf quality of all our products. You should always be able to sip a spirit, especially a clear spirit, to assess its flavor profile, before even considering mixing it in a cocktail. I have found in the five years that we’ve been distilling spirits, that distillers often rush: They rush to accept a first, experimental botanical bill or mash bill; they rush to throw the product in a bottle without allowing it to breathe and rest first; they rush to do more rather than do better.

When we tell people that we worked on our Oomaw Gin botanical profile for over a year, they are blown away. Perhaps that is why is one of the top-selling craft gins in the state. Anyone can make a good gin. I have tasted very few perfect gins. We are known for doing what others are not doing: applying technology to a process that is still being done on antiquated equipment. This ensures replicability and precision when making cuts. We pride ourselves on 100% transparency.

We don’t pretend to be a distillery while really operating as a marketing company and sourcing products from big, production factories. Everything we do is on a small batch, craft scale, and everything we do is done on-site, in full view of the public.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
The spirits industry can be daunting, intimidating. We love to educate our customers and we do so without the notion of superiority. We love questions and we love when someone comes in and says, “I have a dumb question..” We’ve all asked those questions! That’s how you learn! We love to teach folks about using our products and enjoying the whole world of mixology and craft spirits.

Chris is an extremely passionate distiller and anyone who has ever been on one of our tours knows that. It’s been a challenge keeping spirits up over the last 20 months. We sympathize with our friends in the restaurant, bar, hospitality, and tourist industry who are re-creating themselves to survive Covid as a business. We have tight relationships with other craft distillers in our state and around the world and we just wish the best for everyone.

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