If you grew up in Utah like me, you probably received a fairly detailed historical education of the state. There is, however, an aspect of our history that doesn’t get as much press as other stories: beer. It was a major player in our state’s early development. Through the advertisements and use of the pop culture references of the early 20th Century, we can see that the history of our state may have had a little more color than some historical black-and-white photos would have us believe. I had the pleasure of meeting someone who has spent the past four-plus decades of his adult life collecting the relics of Utah’s beer history and saving them from disappearing into obscurity: Carlos Gallegos. After many years collecting, Carlos became known as the “Utah Guy” among his fellow collectors in the breweriana world—that’s what they call their hobby of collecting beer memorabilia.
Carlos has spent a good deal of his life here in Utah. He and his wife, Lilly Gallegos, have raised a family (including grandchildren), and have made a comfortable life for themselves in the Salt Lake Valley. As a member of the United States Air Force and as an aviation contractor, Carlos has enjoyed a well-traveled career that has taken him to many destinations around the world where he’s enjoyed a little of the “local flavor” on his down time. He developed his appreciation for beer while stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he still believes the best beers in the world come from.
He began to appreciate not only the beer but also how the cans and bottles reflected the regions he was in. “I was really drawn to the diversity and the artwork of some of the beer advertisements that I was coming across,” says Carlos. “Every trip away, I’d come home with a few cans or bottles and display them in the house.” Now, the walls, shelves and display cases that inhabit the Gallegos home are a historical tribute to the forgotten breweries and beer that played an important part in the development of Utah and the Intermountain West. “I started collecting the whole world, but there’s just too much,” Carlos says, “so then I downsized to just America, then to the Western U.S., and finally to the Intermountain area: Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. That’s what I concentrate on now.” He’d previously seen local labels like Fisher Beer and Lucky Lager as a young adult, but never had much interest in beer until after he broadened his horizons during his posting in Germany. Now, many of his brewery collectables’ names may be unfamiliar to most Utahns, like The Salt Lake Brewing Company, Becker Brewing and Fisher Brewing Co. These were some of the more prolific local producers of advertising swag in their time, and there’s a charm and a quality that reflects the magic and glamour of that era through the presence of Utah breweries.
People know that if they come across a special find that is Utah-related, Carlos is their first contact. “I’m often contacted when someone comes across anything from Utah, whether it’s for info or if I’m interested in buying.” It’s this expertise that has turned Carlos into a bit of a local historian when it comes to Utah’s brewing past. “There are so many breweries that were lost to time in the early days of the Utah territory,” Carlos says. “There are some historical documents and photos that still exist from some of them, but there are only a few tangible items that have survived to the present that show how our local beers connected to the people of Utah and reflected how they lived.” One of the prized pieces from the Gallegos Collection is a pre-Prohibition commemorative mug from Pabst Brewing Company, adorned with an image of then-Governor Brigham Young. “I’ve done a lot of research on this mug,” says Carlos. “Pabst has no records authorizing its production, but it clearly has their authorized stamp on the bottom. I think they only produced a couple dozen or so of these locally, of which only a handful exist today. Pieces like this remind me that part of our past has been obscured throughout the last century, like the fact that at one time, Brigham Young and many Latter Day Saints were in the alcohol business here in Utah.”
Few have seen the Gallegos Collection because it’s a private collection, but as 78-year-old Carlos says, chuckling, “You can’t take it with you. I’m getting up there in years, and it’s getting to the point where it’s time to share some of what I have with the rest of Utah. I’m going to leave a few with my grandson, who has shown a great interest in collecting Utah’s breweriana. The rest I’d like to go to a select group of individuals that truly care about Utah’s beer history.” One of those stewards of Utah’s brewing past is Beerhive owner and author of Beer in the Beehive, Del Vance. Carlos says, “I know the pieces we sold to him are in great hands.” I asked Vance about the pieces he bought from Carlos. “Some of these pieces are in mint condition, and they are truly works of museum-quality art,” Vance says. “There are a few that I’ll keep in my home, but some of the more remarkable pieces I’ve chosen to display at the Beerhive for anyone to see.” The Beerhive Pub is already known to be a museum to Utah’s beer history, and the added Gallegos memorabilia just adds to the appeal—it’s located at 128 S. Main Street in Salt Lake City.