Proper Brewing Co. is no stranger to growth. The multi-location craft brewing operation started small — as in the state’s smallest commercial brewery at the time — and in the last decade has expanded to include properties throughout Salt Lake. Soon it will step beyond the county line.
The Proper footprint features a side-by-side brewery, taproom and Food Network-famous burger joint on Main Street. In Sugar House, there’s a café/bistro and a Utah-only beer bar. And don’t forget Avenues Proper, the original location that opened in 2013 and helped ignite the state’s next wave of craft breweries.
Recently, Proper Brewing/Burger established a presence inside Vivint Arena. It submitted a bid to open shop at Salt Lake International Airport. And in its first foray outside Salt Lake County, Proper’s expected to open an R&D brewery and taphouse/restaurant in Moab this summer.
The outposts are all carefully considered, with expansion aiming to stay true to the organization’s overall mission: consistently producing high-quality craft beer.
“If you’ve been following what we’ve been doing over the last 10 years, you know we do things at a pace we’re comfortable with,” said Rebecca Cardaccio, Proper’s sales director. “We do it the right way.”
The Proper Brewing Moab Taphouse will occupy the former home of Atomic Grill and Lounge. Size-wise, think Proper Brewing and Proper Burger but combined under one roof. A small brewhouse will allow for exclusive one-offs, and a beer store will offer a lineup of beers to-go. A patio will host live music and provide a spot to enjoy a beer and burger amid the red rock.
“The goal is always to make Proper a Utah staple,” said Jeff Bunk, the brewery’s director of operations.
Yacht Rock Juice Box is one beer that’s helped in that regard. The hazy IPA made an immediate impact when it debuted in late 2019, and continues to be a top seller.
“We hit that one really well,” Bunk said. “We did a lot of research and decided if we’re going to make a hazy, we’ve got to make it to our perfect standard.”
Whispers of the Primordial Sea proved to be one of Proper’s greatest success stories in 2021. The smoked Helles lager with pineapple was Bunk’s brainchild and served as a “point of difference but wasn’t so intense” that it would turn off everyday beer drinkers.
It makes sense that with brick-and-mortar growth comes a bump in brewing personnel and production. Proper recently hired Steve Vellinga to be its head brewer. Vellinga brings with him a decade’s worth of experience at the Utah Brewers Cooperative, Bunk said. John Coulam is a new hire to oversee the cellar. He previously worked for Epic Brewing in Denver, and Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo.
“We’ve made a lot of good changes over the last little bit, and they’re improving not only the quality of the beer, but also how quickly we can produce it,” Bunk said.
Proper brewed about 3,200 barrels in 2021 — a 45 percent increase over 2020 — and is targeting 4,200 in 2022, Bunk said.
A strategic shift from 22-ounce bottles to 16-ounce cans helped to position Proper for future growth. That move, coupled with updated branding, led to another win for Proper in 2021: eight-can mixed packs (with a windowed slot for a rotating beer) available at grocery and convenience stores.
“The variety pack has been fantastic,” Cardaccio said. “The featured slot is a way to get new beer into people’s hands without changing your lineup or getting new SKUs approved in stores.”
Next up is a mixed pack that will pit West Coast-style IPAs and pale ales against their East Coast (hazy/juicy) counterparts. Look for those in grocery stores this spring.
“We keep saying we’re on the cusp of getting to where we really want to be,” Cardaccio said. “We’ve figured that out now and it’s just putting it all in motion.”