Many craft brewers did well last year. Many craft breweries are looking forward to many more years of growth. Let us take the story of Utah’s pioneer craft brewers Wasatch Brewery and Squatters Craft Beers. In 1986, Greg Schirf opened Utah’s first microbrewery, Wasatch Beers and Brewpub, in the resort town of Park City. A few years later Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole founded Squatters Pub Brewery, Salt Lake’s original brewpub, in 1989. The company currently operates five brewpubs and a wine and ale house. In 2000, Squatters Craft Beers and Wasatch Brewery merged their microbrewery operations for draft and bottle production, creating the Utah Brewers Cooperative.
Last year, the Utah Brewers Cooperative’s annual production rose 18 percent to 52,000 barrels (bbls), right in line with the craft beer industry growth rate of 18 percent.
“We focused on deepening sales in our existing markets in 2014 rather than expanding our distribution footprint resulting in a tremendous out-of-state growth rate of 73 percent,” said Schirf, founder of Wasatch Brewery. “And in what is considered a nondrinking state to the outside world, Utah backyard sales were up 11 percent.”
The breweries’ top-sellers are IPAs — Squatters Hop Rising Double IPA (9 percent ABV) and Wasatch’s Ghostrider White IPA (8 percent ABV), followed by award-winning session brews Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale and Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen.
“We owe a lot of our growth to the continuing IPA craze,” Schirf said. “It has allowed our brewers to develop our portfolio, releasing unique seasonals and staying connected with craft beer drinkers on a more innovative level.”
Schirf expects the brewery to top this growth milestone by brewing in excess of 70,000 bbls in 2015.
“We’re poised for growth. In 2014 we improved efficiencies, added fermentation tanks and focused on people, doubling our crew,” Schirf said, “There’s a confidence we can reach our goals with existing capacities, and to continue to release new beers in 2015.”
A busy brewhouse did not slow down other initiatives, as Squatters and Wasatch unveiled new packaging and released six new beers, including an award-winning seasonal lineup by Squatters including Bumper Crop Honey Ale, Black Forest Schwarzbier and the much sought after Black O’Lantern Pumpkin Imperial Stout and Apple-A-Day Apple Ale under Wasatch. Simultaneously they opened a second 5,200-square-feet Wasatch pub location in the revitalized neighborhood of Sugar House, Utah.
Acknowledgment poured in 2014, adding six medals to the brewery wall — two Great American Beer Festival medals and four North American Brewers Association medals, bringing its award totals to-date to 30 and 64, respectively. Other highlights included Squatters Fifth Element Farmhouse Ale being recognized as the highest rated beer in Utah, 100 on ratebeer (by www.businessinsider.com), and the Wasatch Polygamy Porter name called out three times as one of the most unique craft beer names in the United States (by www.pastemagazine.com; www.thechive.com; www.buzzfeed.com).