Bonneville Brewery could be called a “destination brewery.” It’s 35 miles west of Salt Lake City, and while its hometown is growing rapidly, it’s currently a one-of-a-kind establishment in Tooele.
In addition to the award-winning beer, on most days visitors are treated to stunning scenery in every direction.
“I knew it existed,” Bonneville’s Head Brewer Dave Watson says of Tooele, pronounced too-WILL-uh and boasting a population 35,000. “But nothing had ever come up for a reason to go to Tooele.”
As rumors swirled around what would ultimately become Bonneville Brewery, Watson said he’d heard of a brewpub that was closing.
His first instinct when contacted about brewing in Tooele? “If somebody’s trying to reboot, I don’t want any part of that.”
Watson learned that it wouldn’t be a rebrand of the now-closed Tracks Brewing Company. Rather, the as-yet-to-be-named brewery would feature new ownership familiar with the area, if not the brewing business.
Brad Shepherd, who owns the All Star Bowling & Entertainment center down the road from what would become Bonneville Brewery, saw an opportunity. He believed it made perfect business sense to own a brewery that could supply beer to his bowling centers (which now number five, including four in Salt Lake County).
Beer production started in the fall of 2012, though the pub and restaurant remained a construction zone and wouldn’t open until early 2013.
“They were making dust and I was making beer,” Watson remembers.
Bonneville Brewery: In Their Own Words
Bonus: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to our interview with Dave Watson, head brewer at Bonneville Brewery. We chat about a variety of topics, including the history of Bonneville, Watson’s philosophy when it comes to brewering award-winning beers, and we learn more about Bonneville’s lineup of craft brews.
Not Exactly a Picture-Perfect Path
Watson admits he took a somewhat funny route to get to where he is today.
Watson’s “craft beer awakening” arrived in 2001 as a college student in New Mexico. While his peers packed suitcases of Bud Light for beer pong tourneys, Watson says he “jealously guarded” a pair of bombers (22-ounce bottles).
The student had jumped out ahead of the latest craft beer boom.
“It had gotten rolling, but it wasn’t roaring yet,” Watson says.
In his last year of college, Watson studied abroad in Germany. Though that’s an excellent place to jumpstart a brewing career, that’s not exactly what happened.
Watson sought to wrap up his journalism degree requirements while in Europe, but he couldn’t find a specific course that would earn him his diploma.
So the would-be photojournalist returned to New Mexico to complete his schooling. Before he could, however, a newspaper came calling. He grabbed the photog job offer and spent the next couple of years documenting news in the Four Corners area of the United States.
Once he’d seen all he believed he could see through the lens of a small-town newspaper, Watson returned to school. At that time, he took a position at High Desert Brewing Co., a small brewery in Las Cruces, N.M. “Anybody who was into craft beer hung out at the place,” he remembers.
Fast-forward to 2008 and his girlfriend at the time secured a job in Salt Lake City. He needed to make a choice: Stay in New Mexico or follow his heart.
“We’ve been married for many years now, we’ve got little kids, so I think I made the right choice,” he says.
Brewing in the Beehive
It wasn’t long before Watson landed in the beer business in the Beehive State. An assistant brewer position at Desert Edge Pub & Brewery was sandwiched between a pair of stints at The Beer Nut homebrew supply shop.
It’s during that second stint that Watson received a call that would define the next decade. Well, actually, Rio Connelly, Watson’s colleague at The Beer Nut, received a call. But at the time, Connelly was busily working to open Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House.
“It turned out to be Eric Dunlap, who was previously with Red Rock and who had done a lot in the beer community,” Watson says. “He was consulting for this place—which was as yet unnamed—and he was looking for a brewer. We sat down and talked, and here I am.”
Seven-plus years later and Bonneville Brewery, named for the massive prehistoric Lake Bonneville, the remnants of which is the Great Salt Lake, is firing on all cylinders.
The spacious two-story structure features a full pub menu, 10 core draft beers (some of which are bottled as well), and room for two rotating tap handles.
Its tagline—Beer Accelerated—fits. Images of the Bonneville Salt Flats’ legendary speed demons adorn the walls. As we talk, Watson glances up to see Ab Jenkins, who famously drove the Mormon Meteor, staring down.
One outsized personality—Rollie Free—is featured prominently on the Free Roller Session IPA label.
“He’s laid out prone on a motorcycle in nothing but a Speedo and a pair of sneakers,” Watson laughs. “This dude needs a beer named after him.”
Listen to the Utah Beer News Podcast to hear Watson share the entertaining story of Roland “Rollie” Free.
Making Beer People Enjoy Drinking
Whatever you’re imagining Bonneville Brewery to be, you’re likely selling it short.
“It’s been re-done really nicely,” Watson says of the pub. “There’s a big patio with a great view of the Great Salt Lake. You can see the sunset over Stansbury Island. Any direction you look out of this place is a beautiful view. You have the Oquirrhs on one side, the highlands of the Salt Lake on the other.”
Oh, and the beer. Imagine sipping a Hefeweizen on a warm summer day while taking in the spectacular views.
As brewing goes, Watson isn’t one to go crazy chasing trends. He got into the business because he loves well-made beer.
“I don’t have the instinct where I want to do something that’s never been done before,” he says. “My main goal is to make good quality beer that people enjoy drinking.”
That he has. Bonneville’s bestseller is Silver Island Hefeweizen, named for a nearby mountain range. The Redline Irish Red Ale became the brewery’s first “seasonal” offering and could now be considered Bonneville’s signature beer.
“It’s a recipe I’d been doing for years,” Watson says of Redline. “It’s a style I really like, one you can always go to. And there aren’t many of them, so it fills a little spot that isn’t occupied.”
Bonneville’s won a host of awards over the years. In 2019, its Sir Malcolm’s Stout nabbed silver at the International Beer Awards. Its Antelope Amber Ale took home bronze at the same competition.
By the way, your eyes aren’t deceiving you as you look at the Antelope Amber label. A buffalo, not an antelope, is staring back. The label celebrates the bison population that famously inhabits the Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island.
What’s Not to Love?
Tooele County, like much of the state, is experiencing growth and, presumably, welcoming new beer drinkers. Though Bonneville is known as a tried-and-true brewery, its location off the beaten path presents its own set of challenges.
“Being here we do get forgotten a little bit,” Watson concedes. “So we have to work a little bit harder to get our name and our product in front of people. I think once people have the product, they’re happy with it and they’ll come back. It gets noisy. There’s a lot of different stuff drawing people’s attention and if they’re not driving past you on the way to the grocery store or to pick up their kids, you’ve got to get to them.”
But the fact that it is off the beaten path is a reason thirsty beer drinkers should make the trip.
“It’s really a pretty place that I don’t think people fully get until they come here,” Watson says. “Everywhere you turn you’re seeing something great. In a lot of other parts of the country, they would love to have just one of the views we have.”
Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s also the beer.
About Bonneville Brewery
Bonneville Brewery, which brewed its first beers in the fall of 2012, falls under the ownership umbrella of All Star Bowling & Entertainment. The centers, many of which are accompanied by Pins & Ales, are sprinkled throughout the Salt Lake Valley. One, however, is located a stone’s throw from the brewery in Tooele.
That proximity presented a golden opportunity. When a former brewpub closed, the All Star Bowling & Entertainment ownership pounced. It completely remodeled the existing pub and opened Bonneville Brewery Restaurant & Pub opened in early 2013.
“It was more a matter of geography,” Watson says. “The (previous brewery) would close now and then, and every time that happened, (All Star Bowling owner Brad Shepherd) noticed he got a big spike in business.”
Now, Bonneville beers can be found on tap at each of the five All Star locations. They’re also available on draft around Utah and in bottles at grocery and convenience stores.
- Opened: October 2012
- Address: 1641 N Main St, Tooele, UT 84074
- Notable: Watson put his stamp on the beers from the very beginning. The former photojournalist worked at The Beer Nut homebrew shop and Desert Edge Pub & Brewery before landing the head brewer job at Bonneville. The Redline Irish Red Ale marked Bonneville’s first “seasonal” offering. It continues to be one of the brewery’s most popular brews. The bestseller, however? That honor goes to Silver Island Hefeweizen.
- Website: https://bonnevillebrewery.com/
- Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter