the liquor laws in the state have loosened up over the past couple years it brought about
changes in business practices from brewery to bar. More
specifically it opened up new business to people who dreaded the
entire process of just buying a drink. So now with a somewhat happier
face on the entire ordeal it brings new opportunities to the city.
For example, how about a brewery on State Street?
Epic Brewing just barely opened its doors to the public this month. A venture taking two years to officially bring to life, the brewery has over ten different flavors of various grades bottled daily by the pint. Sitting just off 8th South between two car companies (who could probably use a drink in this current economy), the on-site store is now running and welcoming any adventurous party to buy and try for their weekend plans. I got a chance to chat with co-founder David Cole about getting the place on track all the way to its opening, plus thoughts on local brewing. All with a few pictures of the downtown location.
David Cole (on right, with Peter Erickson on left)
Gavin: Hey Dave! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
David: I am a native Californian, spent many years surfing and skiing as a youngster. Between surf sessions I earned a BS in Biology with a focus on Marine Sciences at San Diego State University in 1988. Later I managed 40-acre aquaculture production facility in the Imperial Valley of California for San Francisco Bay Brands, moved to the bay area in 1989 to manage production and product development for the same company. It was in the bay area where exposure to the California Craft brewing scene sparked an interest that now is finally being followed some eighteen years later. Started Salt Creek Inc. in 1992 with Peter Erickson here in Utah, we became the second largest in the industry. Traveled the world as the Company’s President on sales missions, etc. and then later as Global Sales Manager for INVE Aquaculture the purchaser Salt Creek. Enjoyed seeing and dealing with all kinds of people from all over Asia, South America, Europe, Central America, Russia, Australia…Truly this business was an epic journey in my life which paid rich returns in so many ways beyond a measure of return on investment. Still enjoy surfing a few times a year and seek out EPIC split-boarding days in the Wasatch. I really enjoy cycling adventures and amateur bike racing in Utah and hanging out with my wife and two kids.
Gavin: How did you first take interest in brewing beer for a living?
David: In San Francisco, we saw micro brewing starting to come on the scene in a big way. There were so many start-ups making great beer, all kinds of styles of amazing beers and filling their pubs nightly in the late 80's around the bay area that we figured these guys where making some money and having a ton of fun doing it. I started reading a lot on the subject of home brewing, a book by Dave Miller got me hooked. Then, Peter and I got side tracked and started the aquaculture feeds company in Utah. After finally leaving the industry in late 2008 Peter and I started the plan to brew beer for a living in Salt Lake City.
Gavin: When did you meet Peter Erickson and how did you both become friends?
David: We meet in San Diego in the mid 80's, Peter was managing an indoor aquaculture facility producing brine shrimp when I got hired on there. We worked together and sailed a lot in beer can races on the San Diego bay.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up an aquaculture company in Utah?
David: When San Francisco Bay Brands was getting ready to sell the Aquaculture side of their business, which we really enjoyed working in, we decided to go for it and move out here and set up shop. It was either brine shrimp or beer and we went for the brine shrimp first. Utah's Great Salt Lake was producing 90% of the worlds supply and so we figured this was the place to set up the integrated specialty feeds company called Salt Creek, Inc.
Gavin: What made you officially decide to form your own brewing company?
David: We always wanted to brew heavy beers true to style and some crazy flavorful ones like we enjoyed in California and Europe, then when Utah made the change to the law to allow breweries and distilleries to sell packaged product direct to the public we saw that as a golden opportunity to bring a boutique brewery like those on the west coast to Salt Lake. It has taken nearly two years to arrive at opening day next week.
Gavin: How did you end up bringing Kevin Crompton into the fold to help with the brewery?
David: We did a brewer search and listing on several websites. We had brewers from Oregon, Washington, California, Utah and many other states apply; even some from overseas, all with the commercial experience we needed. We interviewed many of them, and chatted with many of the great brewers in town and afar. At our first interview in person with Kevin, Peter and I knew he was the right person. He had the skills, was ready to work hard and prove himself and had a deep, deep passion for beer. I didn’t hurt that later Del Vance who literally wrote the book on Utah brewing recommended him. Kevin is making magic in a 22oz bottle!
Gavin: Considering all the different locations around the city, what made you choose the spot on State Street?
David: The location search was a nightmare, it took way too long! Since this type of brewing and retail business is new in SLC, we had to get a zoning interpretation before we knew where the city would let us build it out. We had hoped for something that let us fit general retail but we got a zoning for D-2 which limited us to a "U shaped" zone for our consideration from about 3rd West to 2nd East between 4th to 9th South, avoiding parks, playgrounds and churches too. ...Anyway, we found the Pho location to be our best option after many months. In the end we love the location, tons of traffic driving by and close to downtown with some space out back for expansion if needed.
Gavin: What was it like getting all the equipment and supplies and setting everything up to start brewing?
David: We did a lot of planning work on paper and were able to finish the job with the help of our contractor, Mark Fisher, in a few months after we had our permit. We couldn’t find decent used brewing equipment so at the depths of the recession we made a good deal with JVNW on a brand new system custom made for our Strong Ales and Lagers. We had a good time setting up that system, but it took months of planning to make the install happen in a very short period.
Gavin: The big goal for you was to make beer that wasn't the standard 4.0 mix Utah is used to. Did you already have specific brews in mind or was it more experimental going in?
David: We did a lot of experimentation to hit our vision of beers people would enjoy the most. We wanted to make all strong ales and lagers and some that no one has thought of yet. We have a Smoked and Oaked Belgian Strong that goes in to wood casks soon that we hope creates a buzz in the brewing industry.
Gavin: Without giving away major details, how do you go about making a new brew from start to finish?
David: We think about existing great domestic and foreign beers we love and how we think changes to flavor profiles can bring some interpretation to a point that is: “over the top” We ask ourselves what can we do that has not been done that will make a fine product, not just something wacky and then we spend a lot of time with the ingredients, planning how to make something special. We think and talk a lot about flavors and what if we do this or that, how will it taste. We spend a lot of time experimenting and using many yeast strains, which makes us and our beers special, maybe even to the point of crazy.
Gavin: What's the difference between the three different beer series you have to offer?
David: The Classic Series it just that, what you find traditionally offered in American Craft Breweries, great, clean beers that don’t change. The Elevated is were we take a style and kick it up a bit, we use more malt, more hops and more special yeast to get that alcohol and flavor up there. The Exponential is were we get to go crazy, from very spicy Belgian Wits that are a great summer beer to the Belgian Strong in wood casks I mentioned, to an Ale made from Organic Brown rice, very strong Barley wines, sour beers, triples…like the name suggest we are just cutting loose here. We hope to blow some minds with all the offerings.
Gavin: Tell us about some of the brews you currently have coming out?
David: We have five off the classics ready (the lager is coming out soon) and four Elevated beers, Hopulent, Copper Cone, 825 State Stout and the Brainless Belgian. The Exponentials will be out in June so watch our website or like us on Facebook for the updates. Don’t miss that beer!
Gavin: Do you have any plans to expand the company down the road?
David: We sure hope to. We love making great beer for the thirsty. But we want to stay creative and true to style and if we expand, we never have plans to be some large industrial scale operation. Our expansion plans are different from the way breweries have traditionally expanded.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your take on the current liquor laws, both good and bad?
David: We are lucky that we have gotten rid of the private club law. Tourism is critical for local small and large businesses, and skiers, cyclists, climbers, National Park visitors, etc. simply want to refresh after spending several hundred bucks on the days events; they do not understand nor appreciate something as outlandish as a private club. The next logical step is to allow more licensees, it is foolish to let all that investment money on the sidelines sit there or go elsewhere.
Gavin: Even though you're brand new, what's your relationship like with other breweries around the state so far?
David: Peter and I feel privileged to be a part of it, I think that is how all brewers we have met feel about it, and Kevin already knew how it worked. If you are a brewery there is like this cool big welcome mat that we all share, at least that is the impression here and in Oregon and California. And a big thanks to Kevin Templin and his crew at Red Rock for making us feel very welcome here!
Gavin: Being a local business, how is it running the company in this current economy?
David: We don’t know yet on this one, we are just getting started. But in general Peter and I have always tried to invest during a down cycle. People are ready to work with new guys with new energy at a time when it can be difficult, so we are obviously optimistic.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the brewery the rest of the year?
David: To be pleasantly surprised by our offerings and blown away by the taste and selection of our fresh local high point brews.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
David: Remember we are open 11AM-9PM from Mon-Thur, and 10AM-11PM Friday and Saturday, with a wide selection of cold, wonderful beers. Closed Sundays, pretty obvious stuff but you gotta know where you can get high point beer after 7PM that is cold and perfect for the backyard barbecue you just got invited too.