Raising The Bar


“He was a wise man who invented beer.” –Anonymous

Simple, clean, satisfying beer has four primary ingredients—yet, the flavor combinations and styles are plentiful. Those who truly appreciate the crisp bite of an IPA or the cool, refreshing quality of a lager can go on forever about things like the palate and bouquet of their favorite fermented beverages. However, it takes a special kind of person to bring that information to the masses and create a unique experience for the consumer. Salt Lake City’s Beer Bar is a place where a like-minded group of beer aficionados have come together to provide just such an experience.

Located in the up-and-coming 2nd and 2nd district of downtown SLC, Beer Bar opened in April of this year as an extension of the famed Bar X, a place where people have been enjoying artisan cocktails carefully crafted by some of the finest bartenders this side of the Sierra Nevada.  When the ownership decided to green light their beer garden idea, they knew there was one man who could help them achieve their vision and make it a success.

Early last fall, Kyle Trammell (former SLUG beer reviewer/columnist and current SLUG affiliate) received word that Beer Bar was a go and that he was needed to serve as a beer consultant to get the place up and running. He had been deep in the bush of Australia, working to set up a 60-barrel brew house for a new brewery in New South Wales. Trammell knew the idea had been in the works for a while, and he was excited to come back to Utah and assist in making it a reality.

Trammell is no stranger to beer. He has worked in the industry for several years, and has a profound knowledge of what goes into creating, serving and enjoying a wide variety of beer. His various stints at breweries like Bohemian and Red Rock enabled him to develop his lust for beer under the tutelage of people like Kevin Templin. He also spent time at the Beer Nut, peddling home-brew supplies to the public. His passion for brewing his own beer is evident when he talks about the intricacies of crafting the malty beverages. It is this passion that led him to gain a Certified Cicerone® accreditation and become a legitimate beer connoisseur via the recently founded Cicerone Training Program, founded in North America.

Certified Beer Server Jaren Skinner prepares a Lagunitas IPA.
Certified Beer Server Jaren Skinner prepares a Lagunitas IPA.

According to cicerone.org, the term comes from an English word referring to “one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.” I argue that beer is art, and it certainly has quite the historical background, so the name seems to fit.

According to Trammell, the first step to becoming “an expert in all things beer” requires a bit of study and a formalized testing process. By proving one’s general knowledge and passing the test, one can become a Certified Beer Server (CBS). These individuals are well-suited for working at a bar or restaurant and delivering an authentic beer experience to the patrons.  Each bartender at Beer Bar possesses a CBS and is expected to uphold its standards when maintaining, presenting and pouring beer.

The next step in the program is becoming a Certified Cicerone®. This process is much more intricate and requires extra attention to detail. Trammell has spent his adult life learning about beer, and this certification was the logical continuation of his career. His enthusiasm for beer comes through in a schoolboy type of excitement, and it is no wonder he completed the program in short order.

Obtaining the rank of Certified Cicerone® requires a rigorous study process followed by an in-depth 150-question test on everything from tap-system maintenance to food pairings. Then, each candidate must go through a taste test where they have to identify two beer styles, their alcohol content, and even tell what may be wrong with the way it was brewed or served.

The two-day endeavor takes place around the country at various breweries—Trammell took his at Stone Brewing in California. Currently, there are about 600 Certified Cicerones® worldwide. Trammel is also pursuing his Master Cicerone®, for which he will test next May. “The fail rate for this test is through the roof. There are only eight Masters worldwide, so I am going to need to hit the books pretty hard,” says Trammell.

The Cicerone training has given Trammell a strong foundation to build upon as he continues working in the industry. His partnership with Beer Bar owners Duncan and Ty Burrell, Rich Noel, Dave Hunt and Jeff Barnard has grown out of mutual respect and a profound love of beer. “The concept was to be as simple and beer-focused as possible,” says Duncan. They had originally wanted to do something like Beer Bar when they took over Bar X, “but it just made more sense, at the time, to focus on cocktails. The (Bar X) space sort of made that decision for us—it’s more suited for cocktails,” Duncan adds. The timing for Beer Bar’s opening was more or less happenstance, and they celebrated with a soft opening in March and a grand opening in April.

The interior of the bar is one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. It is a clean and open space with communal seating, projector televisions and a handmade barn-wood bar. Burrell says, “We originally wanted to do a more traditional [German] beer garden, then after doing some traveling and research in L.A. and Portland, we expanded on that idea to make it a little more contemporary.”

Behind the bar, there are 30 taps boasting the most flavorful 4-percent beers from Utah, Idaho, Oregon and California. Adjacent to the taps is a huge glass masterpiece housing many different styles of stemware. There is also a small, cold case containing artisan sausages and kielbasa from local butcher and former owner of Vienna Bistro Frody Volgger. “He hand-makes each sausage in a classic European style—this really sets his sausages apart. Also, we asked him to create some more contemporary flavors and to incorporate local game as much as possible,” says Noel. The simple kitchen turns out delicious frites and pairs the sausages with fresh rolls from SLC’s Eva restaurant.

Walking up to the bar, each CBS greets customers and helps them make a decision on what beer to order. “The servers educate the consumer, share enthusiasm and highlight the diverse selection. They are there to assist in a great decision,” says Trammell. In addition to the beers on tap, Beer Bar has multiple refrigerators filled with an endless selection of quality craft beer from around the world.

This is where the real genius of Trammel’s relationship with the bar shines through. Breweries like Rogue, New Belgium, 10 Barrel, Chimay, Unibroue and Lindemans are all represented, and each style is stored at the proper temperature and served in appropriate stemware. The attention to detail from the employees at Beer Bar is astounding. Their CBS training serves as a backbone of knowledge and is augmented by Trammell’s Beer Boot Camp.

Hours are spent every month walking through the intricacies of each style, how they should be maintained and served, and what food options it would pair well with. This methodology may take a bit more time, but it is fun to watch the process, from ordering to delivery. “We know it’s dorky, but we are dorks,” says Burrell. Additional accoutrements for the bar are things like a powerful glass rinser. Before any beer is presented, the glass is rinsed, which ensures that any minute particulates are removed, which helps the beer roll smoothly into the vessel.

The ownership at Beer Bar realizes they are in a unique position to provide a different experience and foster the proliferation of craft beer in Utah. Noel says, “Lucky for us, we have such great local breweries, and they never fail to step up and release interesting, new beer to our market.” It is clear that the local relationship with breweries is important, especially since Utah is a control state, and it is harder to obtain beer from outside our borders.

Part of the Beer Bar strategy is to use their connections in the industry and reach out to other breweries in an effort to bring their beers to Utah. Frequent visits to regions like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest allow the team to showcase their ideas. However, their soulful optimism isn’t always met with open arms.

“As you can imagine, people still think this state is dry, and write us off without even looking into what we believe to be one of the best up-and-coming beer scenes in the West,” says Noel. Trammell’s tenacity has helped break down opposition to shipping beers to Utah and allowed Beer Bar to bring in a wide variety of tasty libations. A good portion of this is credited to his detailed knowledge of how things work at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC). He has always been an ambassador for beer and has developed relationships with some of those who work there.

“The people at the DABC are good people—they are just forced to work within the confines of our legislation,” says Trammell. Fostering goodwill with the DABC and assuring out-of-state brewers that their beer will be properly cared for is paramount to the crew at Beer Bar.  There are numerous concerns from these breweries that refrigeration and handling of their beer will be overlooked and the quality will be negatively affected.  It’s this commitment to quality that has enabled Beer Bar to provide SLC drinkers with craft beer from breweries like 10 Barrel, Ninkasi and Alameda, previously unavailable in Utah (legally).

The innovation doesn’t stop at obtaining the beer, though. A rotating menu allows Beer Bar to diversify their selection as demand and personal preferences dictate. Their state-of-the-art tap systems are religiously cleaned at regular intervals, and it’s guaranteed that each beer that flows through tastes as fresh as the day it was kegged.

The Beer Engine, a traditional English hand-pumped cask, also resides behind the bar, and offers a slightly warmer, lightly carbonated and surprisingly easy-to-drink brew. Trammell even talks of adding a Randall, a type of hop-infuser/chiller that would allow them to add certain flavors and aromas to various styles of beer. “This is basically like an extra dry hop, and could produce some interesting brunch beers,” says Trammell.

Summer in Salt Lake will see Beer Bar adding more options to their drink menu and continued innovation on how to promote the industry. The owners hope you will come and check out their space with your friends and relax with a perfectly poured masterpiece on their street-side patio. As you sip and take in the ambiance, look around for Kyle Trammell—he will be the one with the stately beard enjoying his beer the most. The Beer Bar is located on 161 E. 200 S.

Check out cicerone.org for more info on Cicerone training and certifications.