Trax and the UTA celebrate the tenth anniversary of the service, the
downsides to its instillation are beginning to see a turnaround on
Main Street a decade later. As some of the buildings are in a
constant state of abandonment and others are near vacated, others
have sprung on new life and are bringing people back. Even if it is
one at a time. But a brand new bar is doing more than just bringing
back crowds, its restoring a few other lost hopes.
The Beerhive Pub took up residence along Main over the summer, putting a bar back in downtown focused entirely on American made brews. And in the wake of Port O' Call's demise one year ago that left people looking for a new downtown hangout, the Pub gladly filled the void and has become a centerpiece to bringing the crowds back. I got a chance to chat with owner Del Vance over a couple of brews about his time Uinta Brewing, The Bayou, his book and the new bar, plus his thoughts on local brewing and bars. Plus some pictures of the place for you to check out.
Gavin: Hey there Del, tell us a bit about yourself.
Del: I like beer, I like making beer and I like drinking beer, so I tried to stick with a business that relates to those. Thus the brewing and bar business. Oh, and I'm a male.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in beer and brewing for a living?
Del: I'd have to say I was trying my first craft beer when I was at a fraternity here at the University of Utah, and noticing there was an actual difference in what different beers taste like. This was back in the early 80's when all beer tasted the same, called it yellow-fizzy-wuss-beer. But I tasted a Sam Adams, and then Wasatch Ale came out a bit later, and was amazed to see how good beer could taste if its brewed properly. And that's kinda what started the ball rolling.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up Uinta Brewing?
Del: I got into home brewing, made too much of a mess in the kitchen and my wife threw me out, she didn't like beer, hated the small of it. So that's when I decided I had to do something else, and that's how I started Uinta Brewing. It just seemed logical to open up a brewery and see if I could make beer that was actually good enough to sell. And nobody was doing a brewery for distribution only, there were only brewpubs back then. Wasatch and Squatters had just opened up and they were the only two. Nobody was focused on brewing beer for the already existing bars and pubs around the state. So that's how we structured out business plan and brewery operations – was more for the distribution since we didn't have an on premises restaurant.
Gavin: What was it like getting everything set up and running, and what was it like during that first year?
Del: With like any business it was chaotic and stressful, you never know what's going to go on. You always plan for the worst and hope for the best, and luckily for us since there weren't that many breweries yet, we grew about ten times faster than we expected. And it was a constant expansion to keep up with demand. Plus it was only draft for about three years, we'd been kegging beer and those were doing so well we decided to roll the dice and get into the bottling side of it. Once we did that our market share increased ten-fold, easy. Especially with the laws here how people can only buy bottled beer at grocery stores, and it was the only way to get our product out to the people to take it home with them.
Gavin: How was it for you making your own brews, in Utah of all places? And how did you get along with the other breweries?
Del: Obviously there's a bit of a competitive nature to any business, be it beer or liquor or computers. The way Utah is, if you're in the alcohol business you have to circle the wagons and protect yourselves from the powers that be. So even though we're competitors against each other, we have this comradery to battle legislation to thwart the sale of alcohol or to increase taxes or make it more difficult for people to buy it. Its a never ending battle and all the breweries will get together to promote the Utah Craft Beer Industry. I still think it could go a lot further. I was just in California a couple weeks ago to look at brewpubs and noticed they sold other brewery's beer, and I still haven't see that here. You go to Red Rock, its all Red Rock and so on. Not a lot of crossover, but someday, hopefully.
Gavin: What eventually made you decide to move on and leave Uinta behind?
Del: Just wanted to try something new. I tried the wholesale brewing for over ten years, and I wanted to try my hand at a bar on the retail side. I love hanging out at bars so I might as well make some money while I'm doing it.
Gavin: So that was the initial idea for starting up the club?
Del: Well being a beer geek I wanted to start up a bar, and the only way to do it was to make it a private club. Unfortunately that's the way the law used to be. So we did The Bayou, and that was really the first bar in Utah that emphasized multiple beers. You could head in and basically get whatever beer you wanted.
Gavin: How would you compare how you did business at The Bayou to The Beerhive?
Del: With The Bayou the philosophy was to get every beer we possibly can, imported and domestic. And then my business partner Mark was a really good chef, he really likes cooking and had a bit of a Cajun flare to his food. I'm not a cooking guy and I never really wanted to do a kitchen, its always kind of a headache running one. We had this guy next door here named Frodie from The Vienna Bistro who makes tremendously delicious Austrian/German flavored food, and instead of competing against each other we've pooled our resources and it works great. Main Street is a tough spot to make it, but banning together you got a better chance. So when I started the Beerhive I wanted to emphasize more of the craft beers made in the US. I think American beer is sorta setting the pace in the world right now. You look around the world and they're trying to emulate American beer now. Who'd ever thought you'd see that day come? So all the cool new beer styles, all the interesting really outrageous beers, you name it, over-hopped beers all coming out of the US.
Gavin: What did you think of the success that came from The Bayou and helping revitalize that area on State?
Del: No one was more surprised than I was. We just made a bar that we'd like to hang out at and hoped other people wanted the same type of thing. It just so happened to work. We didn't have any gimmicks or anything, it was just a bar with a great selection and food.
Gavin: During your time there you wrote up a book, Beer In The Beehive. What inspired that on your part?
Del: I did it over a couple years when my son was diagnosed with Autism. You know how bar hours are, very long and overnight. So I had to make a decision to bail on The Bayou or my kid, and I made the right choice. I had to spend a couple years at home with him, and one of the things I enjoyed was history and obviously beer. So I put the two together and wrote up the book focused on beer in Utah, and just did all that at home.
Gavin: What was it like for you researching and finalizing what is essentially a very lengthy read?
Del: Fun! I had no idea before I got into the subject that Utah's brewing history was so immense. It started almost the day they settled in the valley. It was fascinating to see that whiskey and beer were the two big products sold for mining. The 49ers were headed out to California, they always had to pass through and the first thing they were looking for was alcohol. Then all the miners that would stay here and work in the canyons all wanted the same. Someone had to make it!
Gavin: What did you think of the major success that had? Because by the time it started getting press it was nearly sold out.
Del: Yeah, I had to do a second edition, I was amazed it did so well, I didn't think so many people would be interested in the subject. No one more shocked than I was. I still have a lot of Second Edition left so come on down if you'd like to buy one. Twenty bucks.
Gavin: How did the idea to come about to start The Beerhive?
Del: The big incentive was the big City Creek Mall going in. I figured if the church was going to spend two-billion dollars... they knew something that I didn't know and I wanted to make sure I was on board for it. I think this whole downtown area is going to see a big resurgence. They're talking about new Broadway theaters, movie theaters for Sundance, trying to get more residential apartments and condos... so I think downtown will return like it did in the old days. It was the center of the cultural entertainment and partying district, especially with the mass transit.
Gavin: How did you come across the building and choose it for the location?
Del: Well obviously its the church's project and I'm guessing there won't be too many bars in there, so I wanted to be as close to it as possible, but I also wanted to be in a historical building. I think they have a lot more character and work great for bars. Bars in new buildings just always seem awkward to me, its like drinking at a Wal-Mart. I wanted to find a neat old historic building, renovate it, and have it as close as possible to the mall.
Gavin: What was the process like choosing what you'd have on tap and bottled.
Del: Well first we bought every product available through the local breweries and distilleries, and we do have some imported beers but our focus was on US craft beers. So we're constantly looking for more across the country.
Gavin: What are some of your favorites you currently have in stock?
Del: I'm a hop-head, so right now the Squatters IPA and Hop Rising are two I enjoy. The Uinta Barley Wine is tremendous if you like a really hardy strong malty ale. Red Rock makes really good draft beer, we have their Amber, their Pale Ale and their seasonal. Moab's beer is really good. But overall we don't put any beer in here that we don't drink and enjoy ourselves. But we do have a few fruity beers for people who need to have a sweet beer.
Gavin: You opened up over the summer last year, how have things been going since then?
Del: Much better than expected. We didn't think we'd be busy until this mall project was finished, and its been beating our expectations considerably. Main Street isn't as dead as people think.
Gavin: Considering the area and space, do you have any plans to expand down the road?
Del: Well one of the problems with a historic building is that you can't really do much with it. We've taken up all the space, there's no where to go, what you see is what you get now. The only way we could make it bigger is to go upstairs, but if you saw the walkways... you can't even get there from this building.
Gavin: What's your take on the local club and bar scene as it is now?
Del: I think its great, especially now that you don't have to buy memberships. That was the biggest detriment to the state's liquor problems. People didn't understand the reasoning for having to join a club, especially when there was no swimming pool or tennis court or golf course, if you just wanted a beer you had to buy a membership. And for out-of-state tourists that really irritated a lot of them. As well as people living here. If you had to spend $5-10 to get into an establishment, you were gonna stay there. It kinda precluded you from wanting to head out and try another one. So now we've noticed people will come in here, have a drink, walk next door and try Murphy's. ...You feel like you're in America again here, you know? Its nice to have freedom.
Gavin: Is there anything you wish you could change or modify?
Del: The thing I'd change is getting the state out of the beer business. To consider beer the same is liquor is a silly and almost dangerous thing. Telling people, especially kids, that beer is the same as a bottle of whiskey or vodka is crazy. Right now anything over 3.2 by weight or 4.0 by volume is considered liquor. So a simple can of Budweiser is liquor in the state's eyes. If we could get the state out of the beer business, it would be tremendous for all the bars and restaurants. Because first off, beer needs to be handled properly. Beer isn't like wine or liquor, it has to be refrigerated, its more like bread, it'll go stale after a few weeks. The state obviously doesn't have any refrigeration and the beer that we buy we have to drive down and pick up ourselves, load it into our cars, drive it back, unload it... and its warm. And for that privilege we have to pay retail price also. So we have to pay the same as everyone off the street, and we have to try to mark it up just to make a little money off it but not enough to piss off the customers. So if we can get the state out and let the wholesalers who are already here handle the beer, that would save us a lot of time, money and aggravation. Not to mention saving the state a lot of money too, I think it would free up a ton of space in their warehouses and we wouldn't have to hear about those issues. It would send a better message that beer and liquor are two different things.
Gavin: What's your take on the liquor law changes made last year? And how do those new changes affect you both as a business and as a patron?
Del: Well like I said, getting rid of the membership thing was the best thing to happen. But now they've got these issues of grandfathering in new business. Like how restaurants who were in business before the law can get rid of the Zion Curtain, but new ones have to have the liquor kept and prepared in a separate room. That doesn't solve any problems, that's just the state being silly again. Its like they sit around and think up ways to look stupid. And when they take the alcohol out of the secret room and set it next to the customer, its in full sight again. What did they solve? What was the whole point of that? When you make stupid laws you're gonna have a lot of people make a mockery of it just to show how stupid politicians can be.
Gavin: How has it been for you being a business on Main, during a rebuilding period no less?
Del: I've been here for almost twenty-five years now, Main Street seems like it's been in constant construction or destruction phases. Its always being transformed into something. A few years ago when they put in the light rail, that put the nail in most of the coffins down here. They shut off Main Street for over a year, you couldn't even get down here. But now that lightrail is up and being used the businesses are slowly coming back, there's more residential and bars downtown, there's just more activity. When I got here there was Bar-X and Juniors and the Zephyr, not many bars downtown and it was a pretty boring and desolate place. Everything was in Corssroads and ZCMI, and it sucked everything out of the business district. Now that they're gone its starting to recover.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the pub over the rest of the year?
Del: More beer, always looking for more beers. The state monopoly, we call it the Single-Payer System over here, its really difficult to get new product in here. We're always constantly working on it so keep coming down and look for the new beers we hope to get.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Del: Drink local! Support your local breweries! Oh, and your local authors!