One of the biggest news stories concerning beer in Utah in the past year has been the merger that Squatters and Wasatch Beers have made with Fireman Partners. The story broke in the Boston Globe. The breweries so far have been silent on the nature of their expansion plans. For the first time Greg Schirf has opened up and revealed a few intriguing specifics.
One of the biggest outstanding questions was: Will Squatters become Wasatch or Wasatch become Squatters? According to Schirf, they have been in talks but in the near future both labels and brands will maintain their own distinctive identities. The only big news is two giant 240 barrel fermentation tanks are on order and will arrive sometime within the year. This will increase Squatter’s and Wasatch’s brewing capacity by thirty percent.
Wasatch’s founder Greg Schirf has been know for a man who doesn’t mind stirring up the beehive state’s honey pot to generate a little buzz.
Before the late ’80s, Utah was synonymous with just two things in the eyes of many people: the greatest snow on Earth and the biggest American born religion. Fine quality microbrews and the state’s culture proved mutually exclusive.
Greg Schirf changed all of that when he opened the Wasatch Brewery in Park City in 1986, Utah’s first brewery after the closure of Fisher Brewery . He proposed the legislation that legalized brew pubs in the state, sparking a beer revival in Deseret that continues to gain momentum in spite of what Schirf describes as opposition from a widespread “Zion curtain mentality.” More than two decades later, the Utah Brewers cooperative, which consists of both Wasatch and Squatters breweries, won the prize for Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival.
“The brew pub law that we got changed 25 years ago changed the complexion of Utah pretty significantly,” Schirf said. “There hadn’t been any breweries in Utah for quite some time prior. We were literally so far under the radar [the state legislature] didn’t know what the hell we were talking about.”
Wasatch beers has since become as recognizable and distinctly Utahn as the prominent mountain range that inspired its name. On the national level, however, Schirf says it took beer aficionados some time to warm up to Utah’s breweries. The much maligned lower alcohol content of the Beehive State was an image problem Wasatch/Squatters had to overcome.
“When we first got started . . . we were always recognized as a lower alcohol beer and we kind of got dissed for that. But that’s all changed in the last three or four years. All of the breweries here are making really fine higher alcohol beers. That’s really allowed us to change our reputation.”
Squatter’s nine percent alcohol by volume Hops Rising and Wasatch’s eight percent Devastator have helped to change this perception. Additionally, Wasatch has recently launched their new Ghostrider White IPA, a 6 percent alcohol by volume beer that Schirf says has a nice citrus presence and a hint of coriander.
Schirf says that, in addition to the Ghostrider White, his favorite beer to drink right now is Wasatch’s Kolob Kolsch. Formerly a seasonal beer called Summer Twilight, it has since been rebranded as a year-round ale named for the planet described in Mormon scripture.
For a brewery owner of his caliber, however, Schirf has remarkably little to say about his favorite beer and food pairings. Rather, he focuses on pairing beer with lifestyle. The Kolob Kolsch, he says, is great for fishing. The Ghostrider White is perfect for apres work or ski. Perhaps it’s only fitting that Utah’s home grown beer revolutionary would look toward the activities and lifestyle that have made Utah famous to bring out the best from his beer.
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