Brewers Association

Guild Update: Utah

Support and development of State Brewers Guilds remains a major focus of the Brewers Association. Acacia Coast, the trade group's State Brewers Association Coordinator, continues to help the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings with many of them centered on initial guild formation.

Recently, Acacia provided and update on her trip to Utah.

It is no secret Utah breweries are brewing world class beer. Over the years, Utah brewers have garnered, by my count, at least 77 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) medals (with 23 golds), and 36 World Beer Cup awards. Salt Lake is home to both a GABF Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company (Utah Brewers Cooperative, 2010), and a GABF Champion Large Brew Pub (Redrock Brewing Co., 2007). The Utah brewery count currently includes four micros, nine brewpubs, two regionals, and eight in-planning breweries.

It is also no secret that Utah struggles with some of the most conservative alcohol laws in the country. Utah breweries and bars can only serve up to 4.0% alcohol by volume (3.2% by weight) beer on draught in the state (higher alcohol beers can be served in bottles). Recently reinstated, the “Zion Curtain” law states that any pub or bar built after 2009 have to pour beers (and all alcohol) behind a seven-foot two-inch high barrier to keep customers from seeing servers pouring the beverages. Utah brewers were also recently restricted from serving more than two drinks at a time to a customer – regardless of serving size. This means no more sampler trays, due to the theocratic state’s rational that having six sampler glasses of beer (albeit only 3-4oz pours of 4% beer) is overindulgence.

However, what most folks aren’t aware of, including many passionate Utah craft beer enthusiasts, is the existence of the Utah Craft Brewers Guild (UCBG). Charlie Papazian and I joined Utah brewers in 2011 at their guild formation meeting and the association has been working quietly on organizing since. They now have built a solid structure and leadership foundation and are preparing to become more of a positive presence for the state’s craft brewing industry.

I attended the UCBG’s annual meeting in late February 2013, hosted by Squatters Pub in downtown Salt Lake City. Jon Lee, Head Brewer for Utah Brewers CO-OP, has led the UCBG as President for the last year. Jon also led the meeting in discussions about board nominations, upcoming fundraising events, expanding guild marketing, conversing over legislative affairs and overall goals of the guild moving forward. For 2013, Jon will be passing over the presidency to Kevin Ely, Head Brewer at Uinta Brewing Company. Taking over as Vice President is Phil Handke, Operations Supervisor at Epic Brewing Company.

The association plans to build its UCBG brand recognition through a series of small events through the year, and they hope to work on some educational outreach as well. Through building their website, with a Utah craft brewery trail map, they intend to build awareness of their presence, member brewery locations and products, and the positive impact of craft beer in the state.

The difference in the laws for beers that can be draught and those that must be packaged causes particular rift among the state’s beer industry. This law has forced Utah’s craft brewers to produce some of the world’s best session beers. Some breweries appreciate the strength they have to maintain draught handles as a result, and are concerned raising the alcohol cap would be catastrophic to their business. Most beer drinkers, and other Utah brewers, however, would appreciate the ability to drink and produce a higher-alcohol beer for draught consumption. These folks believe the craft industry would grow and flourish as a result of raising the alcohol cap. The UCBG at the moment has agreed to disagree and move forward on other issues where there is common ground for all.

Fortunately, all agree the Zion Curtain law should be repealed, and that sampler trays are not a menace to society. All of the breweries unequivocally agree that raising taxes on Utah beer, which is already among the most highly taxed industries, would be harmful to these small main-street businesses. Fundraising is of utmost priority, and they intend to investigate conducting an economic impact study of the state’s craft brewing industry. This is often completed in partnership with a local university and tangibly demonstrates the jobs and taxes the breweries bring to Utah.

I’m enthusiastic about the UCBG’s progress, and the positive outcomes of the Guild’s meeting in February. In conjunction with American Craft Beer Week, their first event is certain to be a success. As is common with most associations, in consideration of the legal issues affecting our industry, not everything can be agreed upon. Working on collective issues and striving to find common ground can lead to a stronger foundation, and more prominent guild recognition. This will in turn increase the volume of the guild’s collective voice, when there is unification, and increase the guild’s positive influence on growing the state’s craft industry.

Find your state guild contact here!




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