Utah’s Business of Beer

Lindsay Berk isn’t surprised when someone tells her, “This a great beer, considering it came from Utah.”

As marketing director for Uinta Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City, she’s heard all of the jokes, myths and stereotypes about Utah being a teetotaling state with strict liquor laws.

Many visitors to the state are indeed surprised by the number and variety of award-wining, great tasting local brews created here. And given Utah’s reputation, they are also surprised the state has numerous successful breweries, wineries and distilleries. What shouldn’t be a surprise, at least to locals, is the underlying connection these businesses and a thriving distributing industry have to economic development in Utah.

As Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck explains, “The recent growth of breweries and distilleries in and around Salt Lake is a fantastic story and one we’re telling and re-telling to meeting professionals and potential visitors as often and as loudly as possible.” Beck has good reason for telling and retelling such news. Myths about Utah’s social scene include false ideas: you can’t buy a strong drink here, get a beer with more than four percent alcohol in it or go into a bar without a membership. For meeting and conference planners, Beck also wants them to know Utah offers the nightlife and venues for social gatherings that convention attendees expect.

“Despite the many advances in teleconferencing and ability to ‘cyber-meet,’ people still need to meet face-to-face on the trade show floor and, equally important, after the show [closes for the day],” he says. “Convention attendees take their conversations and business dealings to restaurants and continue to ‘meet’ over a drink at a local bar or at a brewery. Salt Lake’s restaurant and nightlife growth is critical to our ability to offer visitors of all types the opportunity to connect with others. This dynamic is key to keeping Salt Lake a viable meeting, convention and tourism destination.”

Certainly, Utah’s growing number of breweries, distilleries and wineries help support that dynamic. The state’s wineries are spread from Moab in southeastern Utah to Cedar City in the west, to Layton on the north. Two of the best known are Salt Lake’s ubran winery, Kiler Grove, and Moab’s Castle Creek. As for hard liquor, Utah’s small-batch spirit-making operations include Sugar House Distillery and in Salt Lake City, Ogden’s Own and High West Distillery in Park City, which claims to be Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. Uniquely located exactly at 7,000 feet above sea level in Park City, High West is also “the world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery” with its doors opening near the base of Town Lift. The company sells its products in more than 30 states, Canada, China and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, VIDA Tequila, headquartered in Draper, produces ultra-premium, award-winning tequila from Jalisco, Mexico.

Utah’s beer breweries also span the state, from north to south and east to west. They include companies like Desert Edge Brewery, Epic Brewing Co., Squatters Pub Brewery, Roosters, Bohemian Brewery and Grill, Red Rock Brewing Co., Wasatch Brew Pub & Brewery, Shades of Pale and many others. Twenty-one-year-old Uinta Brewing Co., one of the state’s largest and most successful craft brewers, employs about 50 workers and recently completed a major expansion that took it from a 26,000 square-foot facility to a five-acre brewing campus with a state-of-the-art 130bbl German Braukon brewhouse to support the company’s rapid growth.

“It’s pretty impressive,” says Uinta’s Berk of the expansion. “We’ve had significant growth, and in 2012, we grew 67 percent in sales and added 30 percent growth last year.” Uinta sells its beer in 28 states, including most of the Intermountain West, Texas, Illinois and along the East Coast. The Brewers Association has ranked Uinta among the top 50 craft brewers in the country for the last two years. “That’s not an easy feat these days,” she adds. The company has won numerous awards in Europe and the United States for its ales, lagers and barley wines.

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has issued 38 licenses to Utah businesses for the manufacturing alcohol–20 for breweries, six for distilleries and 12 for wineries. About 17 of the state’s breweries also have an on-premise license allowing them to sell alcohol as a restaurant, tavern or club. And about 26 of the companies possessing manufacturing licenses also have package agencies, where they can sell products they produce for off-premise consumption. Meanwhile, there are 13 beer wholesalers licensed in the state for distribution. These are businesses that not only create jobs and tax dollars, but add value to the state by meeting a need–locally and beyond–through their products.

Local brews are a favorite at many of Salt Lake City’s restaurants and bars, including popular watering holes like the Beerhive, the Bayou and the newly-opened Beer Bar, which serves 150 different beers and is co-owned by Ty Burrell, the bumbling dad on ABC’s “Modern Family.”

One of the state’s leading sommeliers, Jimmy Santangelo, a New Yorker who attended the University of Utah and returned to the Beehive State after a stint in the corporate world, runs The Virtual Sommelier and The Wine Academy of Utah. He advises many of the top restaurants in the state regarding their wine selection, mentors wine enthusiasts and teaches corporate executives and meeting planners how to navigate a wine list. Santangelo says the state offers an amazing selection of wines, beers and spirits.

“I can’t even decide where to go for dinner and a drink. I have too many choices,” he says. “I can get a great glass of wine at a wine bar like BTG or enjoy fine dining and a drink at the Copper Onion.” If he were visiting Salt Lake City, Santangelo says he might start off with a hand-crafted cocktail at Bar X, which is “a great place to tell everyone to meet.” From there he might walk toward Pioneer Park to Pallet, which he touts as an amazing restaurant with beautiful design.

“As a consumer, the growth and quality of the bars and restaurants in Utah is amazing,” Santangelo says. “I am so proud of the area.”