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Gavin's Underground

Squatters Brew Pub

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-05-15 -

After last month's chat with the cool people at Wasatch Brewery, I've decided I need to start covering more beer-related material. Not just for the fine concoctions, but for the rich history local brewing has as part of the local entertainment scene. ...And the sweet, sweet beer.

  So to kick this off I made my way down Broadway to fellow brewers and pub owners, Squatters. Celebrating their 20th year in business as one of the finest brewers in the state, Squatters has firmly established itself as a major business with its products, as well as a fine dining location with its local pubs. Having three at the Airport, Park City and the one we're talking about today... Downtown SLC. I got a chance to chat with manager Heather Lee, brewmaster Jennifer Talley, and briefly with Squatters co-founder Jeff Polychronis about the pub and its history, thoughts on local liquor laws and surviving as a downtown business, and many other topics. All topped off with pictures of the place, some tasty chicken tacos, and a fine Vienna to wash it down with.

Amy Coady, Jennifer Talley, Heather Lee & (not pictured) Jeff Polychronis

http://www.squatters.com/

Gavin: Hey guys! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Heather: Well, I have been working for Squatters for a little over nine years. I have felt like a part of the company a little longer though. My husband, Jon Lee is the Head Brewer at the Utah Brewers Co-op. He started with Squatters at the original Microbrewery on 4th West and 2nd South over twelve years ago. So, beer is a family affair. I started with Squatters at the Airport as a Manager. I helped open up that location and then transferred Downtown and then back to the Airport and then back Downtown. It is amazing to think that I have worked at Squatters a little less than they have been in business.

Jennifer: I have been a professional brewer for eighteen years. I that time, I have become a professional international beer judge for World Beer Cup, Great American Brewers Festival and The Australian International Beer Awards. Also, I have done multiple presentations for the Brewers Association at Craft Brewers Conference, Westminster College and University of Utah. I am going to stop here as far as myself as a brewer and just attach my resume. I was born in Chicago and grew up in California. I have a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Utah. I love to mountain bike ride, trail run and practice yoga. But most of my time is spent with my family; my husband Jason and two and half year old boy, Dylan. We love to camp with our pop up tent trailer and go to music fests. I am currently eight and half months pregnant with our second child.

Gavin: How did the idea come about for Squatters to start up their brew pub?

Heather: Jeff and Peter were in Real Estate and traveled around the country and thought that they were cool places to be. That is when the Microbrewery boom started really taking off around the country.

Jeff: Toward the end of our real estate days, Peter and I were traveling regularly to Portland, Oregon trying to put together a real estate deal.  The real estate deal didn't work out, but we discovered some of the first modern U.S. microbreweries, so the idea was hatched there.  That would have been around 1987 – 88.

Gavin: When did the company decide to put a pub in downtown SLC?

Jeff: As the idea developed, we decided that downtown SLC was our location.  As you may recall, there wasn't a whole lot going on then.  Gastronomy (New Yorker and Grill/Oyster Bar) was about it.

Heather: They were from here and thought that SLC needed something like a brewpub to give the locals that Public House feel that they noticed in other brew pubs around the country. They felt SLC was ready for a brew pub.

Gavin: How did you come across the location on Broadway?

Heather: I am not sure, but I would assume that it was cheap and not too bad of a location. It used to be a hotel and it had quite a bit of fire damage due to a large fire many years prior.

Jeff: From about 1982 - 1986, there was a very esoteric, way ahead of it's time restaurant called Jaz Ranch in the building.  Peter and I were frequent customers so we knew the building well.  When we decided to do the brewpub, we wanted a location outside the mainstream and, at the time, anything west of West Temple was very Bohemian.  Plus, we couldn't afford anything in the high rent district.

Gavin: What was it like setting the place up, and how was that first month of business?

Heather: Well, I don’t know about that... I wasn’t even old enough to come in here when they opened. You had to be 21 to enter because it was strictly a Tavern Bar where minors were not allowed. I am sure that since Squatters was the new kid on the block, it was pretty busy. Especially with the fresh beer brewed on stie.

Jeff: The build-out, April - September 1989 - was like most construction projects - insane.  We were stretched very thin financially so it was stressful.  To add to the stress, Susie and I got married in June that year!  Once we got open, the pub was very busy.  We ran out of beer in our second week.  Greg Schirf was kind enough to sell us Wasatch beer to keep us going until we could catch up.  By November, we had to order additional fermenters.  It was very crazy but a lot of fun.  Many, many long days and nights survived on adrenalin and craft brewed beer!

Gavin: Is it a challenge brewing beer on a daily basis to keep everything the same day-by-day?

Heather: Well, I don’t brew it. I like to think of myself as the “unofficial” taster. We do have our challenges sometimes keeping our more popular beers on tap, like our Vienna Lager. Jenny and Jason plan out weeks sometimes months in advance on when they are going to brew our specialty beers. And when we are about to run out of one of our mainstays, that gets worked into the schedule so we will have some at the right moment we run out. It is a very elegant dance of planning and brewing.

Jennifer: No, but you have to keep on your game. Consistency is very important for our customers. We maintain that by watching our ingredients coming in closely, keeping very good records and adhering to our tried and true brew process.

Gavin: Without giving away secrets, what's the process for you to making the beer for that day?

Jennifer: On a typical brew day: we mash in the grist, run off the wort to the kettle, boil the wort with hops for 100 minutes, pitch the yeast, cool the wort and send it to the fermenter. Then it is clean up time. There are another million things that go on in the brew day such as, kegging for our other locations, cleaning various things, managing yeast, taking gravities, etc. It takes approximately 18 days to produce ale and 30 days to produce lager from grain to glass. When we are not brewing, we are filtering beer and managing all cold room operations and always... cleaning something.

Heather: It is planned out weeks in advance. We just do what any good brewery would do with hops, water, yeast and malt.

Gavin: How do you decide on making specialty brews that are only served in the pub?

Heather: Jenny and Jason decide what beers would fit best in that season and go from there. We do have our seasonals that we do every year around the same time, like right now we have Acapulco Gold which is a Mexican Lager. Around Thanksgiving we have our Holiday Nut Brown Ale for the entire Holiday season.

Jennifer: I am usually inspired by something or someone. Sometimes I experience a beer and want to try my hand at the style. Usually this happens when I am relaxed and traveling and drinking copious amount of beer. For example, a lot of my inspiration for my most recent Belgian brews came from my pilgrimage to Belgium with my brewer friends. Other times I might have someone suggest something to me or tell me about a great beer experience they had and it might spark my curiosity to explore a different style. And of course, my seasonal choices always depend on the weather outside and what feels good to drink when it is spring, summer, fall or winter.

Gavin: Has there ever been a beer from the pub that was eventually put into mass production?

Heather: Most of our beers that are in mass production came from the Pub. The ones that come to mind that are specific to the Micro Brewery are the Provo Girl Pilsner and Squatters IPA. Those were designed and brewed at UBC. Some of the seasonals that go into the party pack were made here first and there are some that were designed and made there.

Jennifer: Full Suspension Pale Ale, Chasing Tail Ale Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout, Organic Amber Ale, American Hefewiezen, Hell’s Keep, Vienna Lager.

Gavin: Do people ever get thrown off that the pub is also a restaurant too, or is it more of a nice surprise for people who were just looking for a bar?

Jennifer: Actually people are surprised to see that we are brewing on-site. We are a brewpub which indicates a restaurant that makes and serves there own beer.

Heather: I think people get more thrown off that we are a pub. People ask all the time if we brew beer here at this location. But we do have our share of people that think we are a bar and then realize that we are a Restaurant and you have to order food in order the drink.

Gavin: How have people from out-of-state taken to the place?

Heather: People from out of state are pleasantly surprised that there is a hip and cool place like Squatters in SLC. We have people asking us if we can open one in their city. We get weekly requests for beer from people not living in SLC. They wonder where they can get our beer in their city.

Jennifer: They love it. They are so refreshed to find great, locally made beer and fantastic food in Salt Lake City. People out-of-state have a very confused idea about what Salt Lake has to offer. When they arrive they are very excited to find they can get great beer at many different alcohol levels, as well as, wonderful wine, cocktails and eclectic food.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on the awards and recognition you've gotten over the years?

Jennifer: It is always nice to be recognized by your peers for a job well done. I have been judging the GABF and the World Beer Cup for over a decade and it is a very professionally run beer judging event. Both events have stringent procedures that help to ensure fair and honorable judging. Knowing the caliber behind the event and the judging panel helps me respect the awards my brewery and UBC has received over the years. But there is always another beer that needs works or a new style to tackle, which keeps me motivated to continual improve on my craft.

Heather: I think the awards are awesome. I enjoy being able to brag about working at Squatters and all the awards we have received. I especially enjoy telling people from out of state that we have received so many gold medals for our beers at The Great American Brewers Festival and also The World Beer Cup. It is gratifying to let people know that here in Utah we do know how to brew beer, very well in fact.

Gavin: Are there any upcoming places for changes or additions to the place? Or possible new brews for people to try?

Heather: Our patio is now open after a long and cold winter. We have 3 babies on the way, One from Jenny our Brewmaster, another from Morgann, a Manager and the last from our host Allie. Pregnancy usually comes in threes here at Squatters. We are blaming it on the water. Upcoming changes... we will see especially with the change to the liquor laws. As far as beer goes, Jenny always has tasty ones in mind for the perfect season.

Jennifer: We are always coming up with new brews. For instance, this March Squatters Pub released Utah’s first made Belgian Golden Strong “Hell’s Keep”. We have a Grand Cru aging in oak and it will have aged 18 months when we consider releasing it to the public, probably winter 2010. We also have another “Fifth Element”, our Belgian Farmhouse Ale, uncorking this fall.

Gavin: For those who may not know, what is the Mug Club and how do people get involved with it?

Heather: The Mug Club is an exclusive club for 100 people. We are currently on a wait list for new members. We have to wait until someone doesn’t renew their membership before anyone else can join. We do two parties a year showcasing a beer style. It is kind of like going to a German Beer Hall. There is great food, beers and people socializing with each other. Jenny showcases a certain beer, like we just had a Mug Club event and showcased the HB51 beer. It is named after the House Bill 51 that legalized home brewing. All of the Brew Pubs around SLC decided on a recipe but made one change to the brew. We used our hop back and put in whole flower Amarillo Hops. Red Rock filtered theirs, Hoppers put in oak chips, Desert Edge didn’t filter, and Wasatch in Park City dry hopped theirs.

Jennifer: The Mug Club is a group of beer lovers who call Squatters their local pub. The annual membership cost is $40 and with that you receive a personalized mug (24 oz. fill), kept behind the bar that we fill for $3.99 every time the member comes in and orders a mug. In addition to the discount on the beer, we invite all the members and a guest to 2 parties a year where Squatters puts out a nice spread of eclectic fare and fills the member’s mug 3 times on us! Mug Club members are also alerted through e-mail (if they want to be) about special events Squatters is offering such as beer education classes, cheese and beer pairings with Caputos, parades, etc. We only allow 100 members to join and we then keep a wait list. So when a member chooses to not renew their spot, we call the next person on the wait list.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your take on the liquor law changes made this past session, both good and bad?

Jennifer: For the most part I think they were an improvement. I am very happy they did away with the private club membership because I felt that always brought a lot of undo poor stigma to our State, however, I think it is still a little weird to have to scan someone’s ID if they “appear” to be over 35. I was very happy about the packaging agency law which allows me to brew higher alcohol beer, bottle it and then sell it through the restaurants. This allowed for the birth of two of my latest beers, “Fifth Element” and “Hell’s Keep”. I am glad to see the Utah legislature loosening up a little around the collar when it comes to our strict alcohol laws.

Heather: There are some good and bad elements to the new liquor laws. Just a few years ago they changed the law so we would be able to display liquor. Now, new restaurants will have to hide their liquor behind a 10 foot wall. The “Zion Curtain” is gone but it is never really completely gone. It is great that we will be able to hand a glass wine across a bar instead of walking it around. We don’t have to do that since our bar area is a Tavern where we can only serve beer. I don’t understand Waddoups and his idea that if children see any alcohol that it will entice them to drink. He feels that it needs to be hidden so they won’t be exposed to anything that he feels is “morally” corrupt. He isn’t giving parents enough credit to teach their children about life or that parents have more influence over their kids than a bottle of Jack Daniels on a shelf in a restaurant. It would have been great if they didn’t have to add all of the little pieces to it. If they would have just abolished the membership fee and leave it at that, it would have been perfect. Instead they tacked on a bunch of things to make the few that felt our liquor laws were too lenient anyway. We call it the Utah Three Step. One step forward and two steps back.

Gavin: How do those new changes affect you both as a business and as a patron?

Jennifer: My husband and I will be visiting a lot more bars that we might not have in the past because we do not have to pay the membership fee. As far as the packaging store license, it opens up a whole new forum of brewing for me which is very exciting.

Heather: As a restaurant, it will most likely not affect us too much. We just have to make sure that all of our I’s are dotted and our T’s are crossed. As a patron, I will probably just keep on going like things always have. I don’t really go out much... I live, eat and breathe Squatters. I don’t think the changes will be noticed too much by the patrons, other than they won’t have to pay when they go to a bar.

Gavin: What's your relationship like with other brew pubs around the city?

Heather: We have great relationships with other brew pubs. It is such a small community and we aren’t in competition with each other. We are trying to go after the big dogs, the Domestic Macro-breweries. We are all trying to educate people about beer and how good it can taste when you put thought, dedication and hops in. J The movement is definitely growing for Micro-breweries and craft brewed beers. People are beginning to realize that beer just isn’t a light American lager, even the large domestic breweries are making more craft beers like Pale Ales and Ambers.

Jennifer: Super friendly and fun. I consider Kevin at Redrock a good friend and we toss ideas around about brewing all the time together. We both have been learning how to bottle condition beer and we shared a lot of our problems and successes with each other which helped both of us. Also, many of the Utah brewpubs just recently got together and collaborated on a beer we called HB51 to celebrate and honor House Bill 51 passed May 12th 2009 legalizing Homebrewing in the State of Utah.

Gavin: Being a local business in downtown, how is it running the place in this current economy?

Heather: Well, people will always need to eat so we are doing great in that regard. People also need to drink, so we have a double whammy. There was a report and study about when the economy goes into a recession, people tend to drink more. People also scale down from their usual dinning places, and we fit perfectly in the middle of that spectrum.

Jennifer: Our local patrons of 20 years have kept us going strong, as well as the Salt Lake convention calendar visitors. A couple years ago we expanded the pub upstairs, this additional space allows to offer reservations to groups of 8 or more – this business is thriving because many smaller restaurants are unable to accommodate multiple groups at a time.

Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and the pub the rest of the year?

Jennifer: Well, I have already given you a sneak peak at my barrels. We have some great weisse beer coming out this summer and as always this fall is great because of all the specials we run for GABF competition.

Heather: You can expect lots of great beer, food and service from the pub. We are enjoying the 20 years of success we have had. It has been a journey that has had a lot of sweat and tears but there has always been beer to make it better. From me, well I am just along for the ride. I plan on doing what I do best and that is be a Manager at the best Brew Pub and Restaurant in SLC.

Gavin: Besides the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Heather: The obvious being our 20 Year anniversary and the not so obvious our 20 years of sticking through it all.

Jennifer: I would like to remind any beer lovers that like to keep in tune with what’s on tap at Squatters to check my blog on the Squatters website. And I would like to thank our customers for coming in and drinking our beer for the last 20 years. It has enabled me to hone my craft and become an active member in the brewing industry, as well as, become part of my local community. Cheers!

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