(L-R) Owner Peter Erickson, head brewer Kevin Crompton and owner Dave Cole of Epic Brewery. Photo: David Newkirk
Believe it or not, Utah has a great beer history that’s only enhanced by the crazy influences of the dominant culture. Ever since the pioneers first set up shop in the Salt Lake Valley, beer was here. Breweries of all sizes once dotted the landscape, proving the need for beer in pioneer culture. Our zest for suds may have lost its way since then, but it’s still an important part of our lives.
Since the repeal of prohibition, there has never been such a desire for great craft beer in Utah. In the last 20 years, Utahns have seen an explosion of breweries. Starting with Wasatch Brewing in 1987, local breweries have been producing a variety of complex styles and creating a demand that many felt was never obtainable here behind the Zion Curtain.
In total, 26 breweries have popped up in Utah since Greg Schirf’s Wasatch Brewing opened up, and many are still with us today. Others like Ebenezer’s Brewing Co. out of Ogden (1994) and Brook Haven Brewing (2001) in Midvale, have since closed up shop.
There are currently 19 breweries operating in the state of Utah that are brewing unique beers. The most recent to open was Zion Canyon Brewing Company which set up shop in 2006 in Springdale, Utah. ZCBC services most of southern and central Utah with their craft beer.
Today is a different story. Years of combined planning has given rise to two new breweries in Utah days apart, proving that even in a downward economy people in Utah still thirst for great beer. Epic Brewing Company located in downtown Salt Lake City received their final license on March 26 and went into production on that day. Shades of Pale Brewing Co. in Park City acquired their permits exactly two weeks later on April 9, 2010 and began making pilot batches of beer that day.
Things like this don’t just happen in Utah’s craft beer community. The restrictions that are placed on the manufacturing and selling of alcohol in Utah can be difficult on new entrepreneurs. And if it wasn’t for the creation of the Class 5 Packaging License in 2008 that allows breweries to sell their beer that’s made on the premises, these boys may never have been inspired to start brewing.
So I couldn’t pass up the chance to get my ass over to these two new breweries, find out what they’re all about and get the low-down on why Utah’s newest “Beer Gurus” decided to get into alcohol business—in Utah of all places.
I started at Epic’s new state of the art facility in SLC. Owners Dave Cole and Peter Erickson are new to the beer business but have a passion and a business model that may change the craft brew landscape in Utah. Kevin Crompton is the brew master. Crompton is a local boy with a long resumé both locally and nationally.
SLUG: How did you guys first meet?
Erickson: Dave and I met in San Diego in the mid-eighties, we were in the brine shrimp business making pet food.
SLUG: Is that what brought you guys out here?
Erickson: Yeah, not many people can say that they came to Utah for the Great Salt Lake, but we did!
SLUG: So what’s your background like?
Cole: We’re both biologists. I majored in Marine Science, Peter in Genetics.
SLUG: Is that how you fell in love with beer? Brewing and biology go hand in hand right?
Cole: That, and the fact that we moved to the Bay Area in the late eighties/early nineties during the craft beer explosion there.
SLUG: So what makes two seemingly sane guys from California want to get into the beer business in Utah?
Cole: We like to manufacture things, make things that are special. Beer is one of those things that has always been pulling at us––even when we were in San Francisco.
Erickson: Plus the opportunity to do something different as well as take advantage of some of the new licensing laws that allow for the sale of “high point” beer directly from the brewery.
Cole: It gave us focus to create and deliver a fresh high quality product straight to the consumer, and that hasn’t been anyone’s real focus as far as high gravity beer goes in the state, not since before prohibition anyway.
SLUG: How did you guys come up with this business model?
Erickson: It was a gradual evolution. We had an idea of a very small brewery that just kept on getting larger and larger due to recommendations from Kevin and the model began changing, probably four or five times since conception.
SLUG: Speaking of Kevin, how did you guys come to select him as your Brew master?
Cole: We had the job posted on professional brewing websites, Craigslist, publications all over the world. There were applicants as far away as a South Africa that were immensely qualified. Then we found Kevin, and he was the guy.
SLUG: What was it about Kevin?
Cole: He was obviously passionate about beer. That really came through in the interview.
Erickson: Plus he came highly recommended by people that he didn’t even know through cross-referencing. He had a strong work ethic and that’s something that’s desperately needed, especially when you’re a start-up business. We could tell he was that guy.
Crompton: They were very intimidating. I had just come off a ten hour shift over at the Bohemian Brewery and had slammed a bunch of energy drinks right before. I prayed they wouldn’t make me scatter-brained, but after I met them they put me at ease. And they convinced me that if anyone could pull this thing off it was these guys. It’s the best brewing opportunity I’ve had in my life.
SLUG: So let’s talk about the product. Besides alcohol content how is it different?
Crompton: It’s not a volume thing with us—it’s about producing the highest quality product we can with the best raw materials available. Now, any brewer can say that, but it’s not always true. We’ll be using expansive high quality malt from all over the world. We’ll have the widest selection of specialty grains available in Utah, if not the country.
SLUG: Let’s talk about your “three tier line.” W hat’s that all about?
Cole: We knew we needed familiar and approachable beers to appeal to everyday beer drinkers, so we’re starting with the “Classic Series.” These beers won’t change—they’ll always be in the lineup. But Peter and I always envisioned more aggressive lines so we came up with the “Elevated Series.” These are somewhat more creative beers that still fit within style guidelines. The top tier of the line is the “Exponential Series”. These are the super creative “out of the box” thinking beers that will be pure cutting edge stuff. We’re only limited by our imaginations. Those are our three realms.
Epic’s beer debuted in Utah’s bars on April 30, 2010 with nine different labels including three different India Pale Ales, an Amber Ale, Stout, Porter, Pale Ale, Wheat Beer and a Belgian Style Golden Ale—just to name a few.
On the other side of the Wasatch Range, more beer is a-brewing in Park City. Shades of Pale Brewing Company is Utah’s other new new kid on the block. It’s slightly smaller than Epic with a more traditional Utah brewing philosophy. While Epic will only be in bottles, SOP will initially only be available on draft.
Trent Fargher is the owner and brew master of Shades of Pale. He and his wife Alexandra are transplants as well. Fargher originally grew up in Toledo, OH while his wife Alexandra comes to us from Colombia, South America. Like most brewers, Fargher got his start in his kitchen.
SLUG: What got you into brewing beer?
Fargher: My mother is kinda like Martha Stewart on crack: She was always in the kitchen experimenting on one thing or another. Growing up around all that, it just seemed like beer was the next step in my culinary evolution.
SLUG: And you’ve been brewing ever since.
Fargher: I spent a lot of time out of the country a few years back, first in Venezuela then in London. All that travel wasn’t real conducive to the art of brewing so all my brewing equipment sat in storage here in the states.
SLUG: So after all the travel you move to Utah. What the hell made you want to get into the beer industry here?
Fargher: (laughing) Everyone asks me that! Ya know, with the downturn in the economy and uncertainty in my field [I.T.], I decided I needed a plan B. So I asked myself, “What do I know how to do?... Well I know how to brew beer.” So I started looking into all the logistics and everything involved and found that even though Utah is tough in some regards it’s quite easy in others.
SLUG: How did you come up with the name for your place?
Fargher: We kicked around a lot of names. This one just sounded right. It fit in with the beer industry. There are so many different shades to craft beer, not just in color but style.
SLUG: So what’s SOP’s business plan for the market?
Fargher: We’re going to start with kegs. It’s a small start-up, and bottling lines are expensive, so we need to create a little revenue. Then someday acquire a bottling line and go from there. Right now we’re working on getting our retail license from the city so we can sell straight from the brewery. Eventually we’d like to be making full strength beer as well.
SLUG: What do you think you will debut with?
Fargher: Probably a Belgian style Witbier. We’ll target restaurants and bars in Park City and down into Heber. That will be our initial market since we will be a self-distributing brewery. Then we’ll move into the surrounding cities and towns from there.
SLUG: Is the timing right for a new brewery?
Fargher: I hope it is. There’s definitely room in the market for more local brands and there’s a definite resurgence of people who want to buy local. So yeah, I think this is a good time as long as we stick with quality over quantity. That’s ultimately what the consumer wants.
SLUG: Where do you think Utah is in the national beer scene?
Fargher: I think Utah’s brewers are as good, if not better, than any in the country. We just need a little more reform to our alcohol laws to bring us into the forefront. I hope to be more active politically in that regard.
The addition of two new breweries definitely changes the beer landscape in Utah. More competition benefits the consumers. As long as we buy from our local breweries whenever we have the option, the quality and selection will continue to expand. Cheers!