It takes guts to open a bar on New Year’s Eve, historically one of the busiest drinking nights of the year. But for Chad Hopkins, co-owner and brewer at Hopkins Brewing Co., the timing — and location — couldn’t be better.
Dec. 31, 2018, proved to be the start of something special.
“We did a soft opening for a couple of weeks to let the team feel it out and see how things go,” Hopkins says. “Then we went all-in on New Year’s Eve.”
Bonus: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to our full interview with Chad Hopkins, co-owner and brewer, and Alicia Border, bar manager. We chat about Chad’s childhood in Sugar House, what to expect when visiting Hopkins Brewing, how a would-be mistake turned into an insanely interesting beer, their thoughts on the Utah craft beer scene, and more.
Filling a Void
It’s safe to say 1990s Sugar House is slightly different than today’s version. The few microbrews scattered about at the local 7-11 at the time piqued Hopkins’ curiosity.
“(Squatters) Full Suspension (Pale Ale) was kind of a new thing, so I’d drink that while my friends were drinking Natty Light,” he remembers. “It kind of blew my mind. This beer’s hoppy and flavorful and it’s got a lot going on. I knew at a young age that I liked craft beer.”
Hooked at first sip (not to mention having a pretty perfect name for what’s to come), Hopkins embarked on an adventure of sorts. He began visiting neighboring states, tasting New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Redhook ESB
“That was a great beer,” he says. “I thought it was the hoppiest, most intense beer I’d tasted. It’s still my go-to pale.”
But beers like that were few and far between in the Beehive State at the time. So, as did many beer lovers before, Hopkins took matters into his own hands.
“I really love these beers, but I can’t get them (easily),” he says. “So I got into homebrewing, starting in the kitchen on the stove.”
Soon his buddies took up the hobby and Hopkins’ single-pot stovetop brew system expanded. In fact, a friendly rivalry began to develop among friends as each tried to outdo the other in terms of equipment.
Hopkins transformed his basement into a veritable brewery. He ripped out the carpet and laid down an epoxy floor. He added a stainless sink and built a bar with eight beers on tap. To top it off, he bought several five-gallon barrels to begin his own barrel-aging program.
That’s about when Hopkins Brewing 1.0 relocated to the garage from the basement.
Hopkins Brewing 2.0: Setting Up in Sugar House
“From the beginning, there’s always been kind of this dream of having a brewpub in Sugar House,” says Hopkins, who’s worked in the restaurant business much of his life. “I thought it was totally unattainable.”
He found a vacant place across the street from Epic Brewing in Salt Lake. With it came a laundry list of questions. Hopkins decided to give the folks at Epic a call to ask about the location, licensing, and other details foreign to a would-be first-time brewery owner.
“They said, ‘oh we’ve got that brewpub in Sugar House we’re not using’,” he remembers.
That’s right: Hopkins Brewing is now located in what used to be home to Epic Brewing’s gastropub The Annex. (For longtime Utahns, it’s also the site of the former Granite Furniture). Still set up to be a functioning seven-barrel brewery, Hopkins considered it a no-brainer to take on a reimagined brewpub.
“I’m basically managing it,” says Hopkins. “(Epic) owns all the (equipment) and I’m managing the property for them with the intent of purchasing it from them in the future.”
To be clear, the product produced by Hopkins Brewing is all Hopkins. From the beer to the food, as well as the weekly live music and the local art hanging on the walls — it’s all got Hopkins’ stamp on it.
Opening Night … And Beyond
Longtime friends, nearby neighbors, and perfect strangers descended upon Hopkins Brewing to help put a bow on 2018 and ring in the New Year.
With seven beers on tap, a farm-to-table food menu, and live music, the Sugar House brewpub opened with a bang.
To make the night even better, one of Hopkins’ best friends growing up asked if he could be part of the festivities. Steve Lyman, an accomplished jazz musician, and his band provided the soundtrack to opening night. And now, you can find the Steve Lyman Trio playing at Hopkins Brewing most Thursdays.
“He’s an amazing musician and to have him play here, it was very surreal,” Hopkins says.
It’s only a short walk from Chad Hopkins’ childhood home to his new home-away-from-home. But the way the journey transpired and ultimately came together definitely can be described as surreal.
“My ultimate goal from when I was younger was a brewpub and I just didn’t think it was attainable,” Hopkins says. “I have to thank the guys at Epic for allowing me this opportunity.”
About Hopkins Brewing Co.
Hopkins Brewing Co. features a rotating lineup of eight beers. The tap list isn’t fed by trends, Hopkins says, but rather what he enjoys drinking. Perhaps that explains that at any given time, three saisons are on tap.
“But they’re all very different,” explains Alicia Border, Hopkins Brewing’s bar manager.
Hopkins is tapping into his extensive homebrew library of recipes — 100+ and counting — to maintain a full lineup of beers. You’ll find pale ales, pilsners, porters, stouts, and more — usually with some sort of an inventive twist. It also offers wine and select spirits.
On the food side, the menu features such pub staples as tacos, burgers, wings, and nachos (er, totchos). The items are perfect complements to the beer, but since Hopkins is operating under a bar license, you’re not required to purchase food with your beverage.
“I’m very passionate about food just as much as I am about beer,” Hopkins says.
“And it shows in how good the food is,” Border adds.