Class is in session at Purgatory, a Salt Lake City bar known for its inventive cocktails. Yet tonight isn’t about mixed drinks. Instead, it’s an evening of craft beer education featuring nine local brews paired with a variety of Asian-inspired dishes.
Eric Meyer, the bar’s manager, is teaching this craft beer tasting and education class as part of September’s Salt Lake Food and Wine Festival.
It’s here that I met Meyer and experienced first-hand his passion for craft beer. I returned to Purgatory a month later to sit down with Meyer and learn more about where that passion originated.
Bonus: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to the full interview with Eric Meyer. In it, we taste and describe three different local craft beers, as well as talk more about the beer scene in Utah.
Meyer, 28, grew up in Switzerland and developed a passion for beer at an early age.
“If you’re tall enough to look over the bar top, they’ll probably serve you a beer,” he says. “The culture nurtures more toward responsible drinking and walking everywhere. Beer’s looked at more as a refreshment or food in some cases rather than an alcoholic beverage.”
“We’d have one or two — the heavy ones that make you feel like you’re drinking a loaf of bread,” he says.
Following his parents’ divorce, his mother moved to the United States and Meyer shuttled regularly between the two countries. He’s lived in Salt Lake off and on for nearly two decades, and in 2012 Meyer moved to Utah full-time.
While in Europe, he drank “a lot of weird beers,” as well as German staples. Meyer’s search for similar flavors in the U.S. embedded him in the Utah craft beer scene.
“It’s my thirst for stuff that I remember from home that had me looking at different beers here,” he says. “And then, of course, my curiosity made me try things like IPAs.”
Craft Beer Education: Certified Cicerone®
Each Tuesday afternoon, Meyer opens Purgatory’s doors to anyone (21+) who wants a crash course in craft beer education. The classes, which start at noon and cost $5 (to cover beer samples), are an outlet for the beer enthusiast to share his passion for the beverage with others.
They also could be considered weekly study groups for Meyer, who is studying to become a Level 2 Certified Cicerone. Put simply, sommelier is to wine as cicerone is to beer.
Cicerone organizers advise up to two years of preparation for the exam, which covers a range of topics.
Beer history, style guidelines, serving techniques, food pairings, and tasting prowess, among other nuances, are all fair game.
The syllabus is 21 pages. The cicerone website lists nine Utahns who are Level 2 certified, though Meyer mentions that others in the industry instead opt for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).
For Meyer, while BJCP may be in his future as well, he went the Certified Cicerone route because it casts a “wide net” on craft beer education. He also sees the certification as a differentiator in the beer industry. It could give him a leg up if he ever decides to pursue a career elsewhere, such as at a brewery.
“It makes you a much more desirable candidate,” he says. “They know you’re going to be knowledgeable about the process from start to finish. You know how to keep product better, manage product better, and sell product better.”
But Meyer is perfectly happy at Purgatory — especially considering the exciting, large-scale “Food Alley” project currently in the works.
Purgatory and Beyond
Meyer, a self-described “hospitality employee for life,” spent several years working at Canyons ski resort. He arrived at Purgatory a year ago where he “could really cultivate my love for beer.”
Even though it’s known for fun, unique cocktails, Purgatory’s laid back atmosphere, upscale food, and attention to its beer menu, draws a beer-drinking crowd, Meyer says. Its selection includes 60+ varieties of bottled/canned beers and 20 tap handles.
Much of the bar’s beer portfolio was in place before Meyer arrived. For that, he gives credit to Purgatory founder Diamond Dang.
“The owner is a very talented woman with a great taste for not only liquor, but beer as well,” he says. “Most of the beer menu is her work. However, I have been tweaking it. It took about six months to win her over with my palate.”
The Sapa Investment Group, which owns Purgatory and nearby Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill, in addition to a handful of other establishments, is creating a “Food Alley” about a block south of Purgatory on 800 S. and State Street.
It’s slated to feature 17 restaurants, as well as artists’ lofts. Included in the venture is a new beer-focused bar — Boiler Room — that Meyer is in line to manage once it opens in late 2019 or early 2020.
“I can’t say I have influence (on the overall bar), but I will be a whispering voice on how I visually see it,” Meyer says, adding that he’s working on Pinterest boards, beer menus, and tap lists.
“I feel the market that certain beer bars miss is people who don’t want beer,” Meyer says. “They want a cocktail. These bars have cocktails but a lot of people don’t associate (Salt Lake’s beer bars) as bar bars. They think of them as the ones with the big beer menus.”
While Purgatory is a cocktail-forward bar with a good beer menu, Boiler Room flips that. The new establishment expects to be a beer-forward bar with a good cocktail menu.
And Meyer says it will strive to advance the laid back, accessible vibe that’s made Purgatory a comfortable spot for craft beer drinkers.
Craft Beer Education: Meet the Educator
- Name: Eric Meyer
- Age: 28
- Role: Manager of Purgatory, a bar in Salt Lake City
- Currently Drinking: Misconception Belgian IPA, Shades Brewing; 90 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head; Rupture, Odell Brewing
- Nostalgic For: Feldschlösschen, a Swiss pilsner (Grolsch is the closest he’s able to find in Utah)