If you’ve been following America’s craft beer movement over the last few years, you may have noticed that the trend in brewing has been to break all of the rules and to bend and twist old beer styles into new ones. Locally, one of the more noticeable innovators of craft beer has been Uinta Brewing Company. For many years, Uinta had been playing it safe in the national beer game, concentrating on making traditional styles as technically perfect as possible. They garnered many awards for their beers, but there wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding their beers like there was for other regional breweries. That all changed last year when Uinta committed to a massive campaign that would change people’s conception of what craft beer could be.
To start, you need people who not only understand beer but who are also aware of why things will or won’t work. They found these qualities in a team of their two senior brewers, Brewmaster Tanael Escartín and Head of Research and Development Isaac Winter. These are two of the most educated brewers in the state—if not the region. Escartín, Uinta’s new Brewmaster, is a native of Venezuela who has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in brewing science. Winter is a local boy who has a chemistry degree from the University of Utah and also studied at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University, where he received his master’s in brewing and distilling science. Over the past year, they have been tasked to blast the local and national beer scene with new, ingenious products.
“It was time to freshen up our portfolio and be more innovative,” says Winter with regard to Uinta’s new direction. “In late 2015, we began putting a plan together to see what new beer from Uinta would look like. We looked at new packaging, yeast strains and styles that would make people take notice.” And notice people did. Over the past 15 months, Uinta’s team has been experimenting with sour beers and wild strains of yeast—like with their Brett Sea Legs Sour Baltic Porter—or partnering with local distilleries such as Beehive Distilling on their Jack Rabbit Gin Saison, as well as coffee roasters like Salt Lake’s Publik Coffee in their Stompin’ Grounds Coffee Stout. They’ve even created a pineapple beer that’s puckering and mouthwatering called Flamingose—no small feat for a brewery of their size. “This is what separates the craft breweries from the big breweries,” says Escartín. “The beer industry is getting more competitive, which forces us to become more creative and innovative with our products.” Their brains are hard at work trying to infuse nontraditional ingredients like cucumbers into saisons and coffee into pilsners—even soured IPAs with peach! “It’s nice to challenge our customers with complex beers because you never know what will stick,” Escartín says.
The process of getting all of these new and unique-tasting beers out to the public is a lengthy process when you’re brewing beer in such large quantities. It takes more than just two creative brewers. “We work very closely with our sales, marketing department and the public,” says Winter. “Their data helps guide us in the best directions. Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA is a great example of that: They saw that fruited IPAs were hot around the country. We tried many different variants to see what would stand out, including a melon version and another with [makrut] lime leaf, but we settled on tangerine because it worked best with the hops we already were using.”
Escartín seems to take it all in stride from her perspective as Brewmaster. “I think the only challenge is brewing at the high volumes that we produce at,” she says. “It’s always easier to be more creative when doing small batches, but I think we’ve managed to find a way to exist in both worlds.” Winter adds a little perspective on the challenges that large craft breweries face when developing innovative beers on a huge scale. “When brewing on an average 10-barrel brewing system [1 barrel = 25.8 gallons], you acquire, let’s say, 100 pounds of tangerine per batch of beer. For our production needs, we had to contract for about 35 tons of tangerine puree.” Escartín then adds, “Which can be challenging, to find producers that can consistently meet large-scale quality needs. The grocery store just isn’t an option for us.”
2017 will still see more new options coming from Uinta, though not on the scale we saw last year. We’re already enjoying new brands like Hopscursion Brett IPA, 801 Lime Pilsner and their new Golden Ale Rotating Park Series. In the coming days, you’ll have yet another new beer to quench your thirst this summer called West Coast Style IPA. It will be a filtered, tropical and citrusy IPA that will come in at a relatively light 6.3-percent ABV.
Winter and Escartín are optimistic about what this new direction for Uinta has in store for us and them—as long as they stay grounded in the world that made craft become so popular. “There’s some respect that has to be paid to the world’s brewing heritage,” Isaac says, “but there’s nothing wrong with throwing all those rules out of the window once in a while if it means you can create something new and exciting.”