When most folks think of Utah, the first thing that pops into their minds is beer—right after Mormons, polygamy, salt and Mitt Romney.
Sadly, people's perception about Utah's beers isn't always positive. But that's changing, thanks to local craft brewers. The Beehive State's reputation in the national craft-beer community is improving, due in part to the finicky palates of local beer geeks. We know what we like, and brewers are happy to get on board and oblige.
Craft beer is exploding in every corner of the state, and so is the number of places making it. In the coming year, two new breweries are slated to open, adding to the 20 brewhouses currently making beer in Utah. Here's a sneak peek of what coming down the road.
Park City's Schirf Brewing (Wasatch) was the first to bring Utah into the light and out of beer's dark age, so it's appropriate that one of our newest breweries hails from Silver Country. Mine Shaft Brewing founder Tim Nemeckay has an ambitious plan to not only make great beer in Utah, but also take on the entire craft-beer industry. His vision is to make a world-class brewery that will sell enough beer to put Mine Shaft brewing into the top 50 breweries in the country.
"Our goal is to brew over 60,000 barrels of beer in the first five years," Nemeckay says. "On Day 1, our facility will have the capacity to reach that goal."
That's ambitious, to say the least. It took Uinta Brewing and the Utah Brewers Cooperative nearly two decades to reach that milestone. "Our approach is going to be totally different," Nemeckay says. "Of the 3,000-plus breweries out there, most get into the game to produce 1,000 to 2,000 barrels. We're fortunate to have a great relationship with an investment bank; our plan is to enter the market big. If we want to be around after five years, we've got to be big, and we've got to do it quick."
The brewery's ambitious capacity isn't the only thing that's big about Mine Shaft. The diversity of the beer and the packaging is geared toward creating a huge demand from both national and local consumers. Mine Shaft will start with a large selection of ales, lagers and ciders in a wide array of packaging, including high-volume bottles, regular-size bottles and standard cans.
Nemeckay isn't worried about Utah's sometimes-cold attitude toward beer. "We don't see any drawbacks and many, many positives," he says. "Places like Colorado, with a huge number of breweries per capita compared to Utah ... makes Park City the perfect place to make a strategic move into a very competitive market. Millions of people visit this area every year, and that's not counting those in Southern Utah. People will begin to take notice of what we're about to do here."
Mine Shaft Brewing is scheduled to open sometime in mid-2015.
On the other end of the brewing spectrum, both literally and figuratively, is the small three-person crew starting Utah County's first brewery since Prohibition. The mission of Maple Mountain Brewing Co. is all about small batches of beer made from locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients. Co-founder Andrew Fullmer says that beer should not only be an alcoholic beverage, but also nutritious. "Americans are one of the few groups in the world that don't see beer as they do in Europe—as a food staple with nutritional value," Fullmer says. "We want to bring that back to people's attention."
Fullmer says it's all about "nurturing" the beer, taking the time to do the little things like "sun-baking" the water. "What we do is remove the fluoride and the chlorine, and we 'bake' it for three days before we actually brew with it," Fullmer says. "The water draws the sun's energy, and we've noticed it makes a huge difference in the taste of the beer."
Water isn't the only thing that sets Maple Mountain's upcoming brews apart. The brewers strive to do as much as they can with what Utah has to offer. "We can't do everything that we'd like with local ingredients, but there's enough that in many cases, we can make the beers regional, and that helps," Fullmer says.
Provo has been receptive to Maple Mountain's plans, Fullmer says. "We haven't got our permit yet from the city, but everyone from the chief of police to the water department to the staffers in the city offices have been really helpful and haven't given us much grief," he says. "Things are moving right along, and we don't foresee any problems. We hope to grow after the first six months, but do it at a pace that doesn't take away from our hands-on approach."
The brewery's small-batch beers will be above 4.0 percent alcohol by volume and will be available in 22-ounce bottles at State Liquor Stores and at Maple Mountain's future bottle shop.
If everything goes as planned, Fullmer says, they will be brewing in Provo by the first of November. "That way, we can have stuff in stores for the holidays."