It would be impossible to talk about brewing in Utah without mentioning the Utah Brewers Cooperative, the collective company behind Squatters Craft Beers and Wasatch Brewery. These Utah brew icons arguably kickstarted the entire Utah brew pub scene. In 1986, Greg Schirf started the ball rolling with Wasatch Brewery; Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole followed hot on his heels with their downtown SLC institution, Squatters, in 1989.
From those humble beginnings, a hoppy empire was born which now employs over 500 individuals, runs five local brewpubs and, as Dan Burick, head brewmaster for the Utah Brewers Cooperative, said recently, exports into fourteen other states. The growth shows no sign of stopping. A recent $1.2 million investment in a canning expansion powered an 18 percent growth in the last year alone. Who says you can’t get a drink in Utah?
There’s a reason other states turn to Utah for their sudsy saturation. As Burick detailed, “We have been very fortunate in doing well in both the Great American Brewers Festival and the World Beer Cup over the years. Recently in 2014 at the GABF we won a Gold for Hells Keep, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, and a Bronze for Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen. However, the award I am most proud of is our 2004 Gold medal for Provo Girl Pilsner in the German Pilsner category. I felt so good about a well made 4 percent pilsner taking it all. I could l have retired that night and felt perfectly satisfied with my career.”
Of course, these days, competition is much tougher in the local market, but Burick doesn’t think that Utah is coming close to peak beer. “Craft in general will continue to grow. The folks in their early 20’s are only stopping in the domestic section for the occasional PBR suitcase, but other than that, they are reaching for more flavor.”
And when they do turn to more complex creations, Burick has some expert guidance, “Hop Rising Double IPA, even though it’s big and hoppy, is easy drinking. Devastator Double Bock is a straightforward malty lager; however, there is more to this complex lager fermentation than meets the eye to get these malty flavors. Our new Polygamy NITRO Porter too – this is a beautiful nitrogenated 6 percent ABV porter that pours super creamy with all of those small nitrogen bubbles. It’s absolutely delicious. We put a year of research into this project.”