The Utah craft beer landscape looked markedly different in the mid-1990s when Red Rock Brewery opened its flagship brewpub in downtown Salt Lake City. In 1994, brewpubs were still somewhat of a novelty. After all, they’d become legal in the state only six years earlier (thanks, Wasatch Brewery).
But now, nearly 30 years later, the original Red Rock brewpub still thrives and the brewery’s expanded its footprint several-fold. It operates a production brewery and beer store in Salt Lake’s Marmalade District. It also opened a pair of additional brewpubs, one at Fashion Place Mall in Murray and the other at Kimball Junction near Park City.
This year, between the downtown pub and the “Brewhouse 2” production brewery, Red Rock expects to self-distribute about 5,000 barrels of beer. That’s more than 150,000 gallons to you and me.
“It’s small but big at the same time,” says head brewer Kevin Davis, who arrived at Red Rock in 2018, and whose career has included stops at Brewery Ommegang, Keegan Ales, and New Belgium.
And even though Red Rock’s achieved critical acclaim — earning 100-plus medals and receiving recognition as Large Brewpub of the Year — it seems comfortable with its place in Utah craft beer.
“We’re not trying to be the biggest,” says sales manager Erika Palmer. “We’re only trying to be the best that we can be and make sure that we produce quality, handcrafted beer.”
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‘This is Family’
Palmer, who’s worked 27 years in the beer/bar industry, has spent much of her career at Red Rock. She started as a bartender at the original pub in 1994. She left, but soon returned with a pitch to create a sales position, something the brewery hadn’t yet had. Her most-recent stint — “third time’s the charm,” she says — began in late 2019 as sales manager.
“This is family,” Palmer says. “If you’re downtown, you’ll notice a lot of our cooks have been there for the last 26 years. Not only that, we have staff that’s been there for over 20 years. It’s quite a team.”
As for Davis, he stepped into some big shoes to fill in 2018 following the departure of longtime brewer Kevin Templin. But he wasn’t coming into it blind or inexperienced.
He spent two decades working a variety of positions at a trio of breweries. The last of which — New Belgium Brewing — is where he connected with Chris McCombs. McCombs brewed at Red Rock previously and rejoined the brewery in 2018 to serve as its chief operating officer and brewery engineer. With Templin leaving to ultimately open his own brewery, McCombs called on Davis.
“(McCombs) tapped me on the shoulder and said, hey, let’s have a beer and talk about this,” Davis remembers. “And it just happened. Pretty fast, actually. It seemed like a really cool opportunity. I was excited about being a little more hands-on and getting back into the small brewery world.”
In addition to the brew team at the production facility, Red Rock also leans heavily on longtime brewer Chris Harlin, who’s stationed at the original pub, to brew many of that location’s draft offerings.
“We’re kind of a two-headed monster, in that sense, as far as brewers go,” Davis says.
When Inspiration Strikes
Davis, who’s already navigated a series of external obstacles in his Red Rock journey, continues to power through. He joined Red Rock not long before Utah law changed to allow draft beer to be up to 5% alcohol-by-volume, a monumental shift in policy. And then, of course, 2020 arrived.
So how have Davis’ first two-plus years at Red Rock been?
“Wild,” he says. “It’s been challenging, for sure, a bit of a rollercoaster. But pandemics and earthquakes and we’re still here and we’re still doing it. It’s been interesting. I wouldn’t trade it. It’s been quite an experience.”
With a love for Belgian-style ales and brewing, Davis is right at home with a pair of higher-profile beers released by Red Rock already in 2021.
He oversaw his first start-to-finish Paardebloem, which is a Belgian-style ale bittered with dandelion greens, barrel-aged, and bottle conditioned.
“It really came out the way I wanted it to come out,” he says, noting that brewing a beer with such a history requires that the brewer determine exactly what characteristics he’d like to see shine. “I don’t feel like it needs to be the same every year. You pay homage to the original.”
The Brettanomyces used in Paardebloem actually provided the solution to a perplexing problem on another beer.
Red Rock’s White Rainbow, a White IPA, proved to be such a popular seasonal that it’s now a year-round brew. And this year, the brewery decided to develop a double dry-hopped imperial version.
Only problem, the yeast from White Rainbow couldn’t hold up to the hops of what would become Double White Rainbow.
“We were brewing Paardebloem and I was tasting it in the fermenter, and I thought, ‘oh, there’s the yeast,'” Davis says. “We got that big bubblegum, banana yeast that could hold up to some really strong hops.”
And so it does.
About Red Rock Brewery
Red Rock Brewery opened its initial brewhouse pub in March 1994. Since then, the footprint’s expanded to include a pair of additional pubs and a production brewery/beer store.
Many beers in its year-round lineup are staples in Utah craft beer. And its seasonal and barrel-aged releases often are sought out by craft beer enthusiasts. Its more than 30 core, seasonal, and special release brands can be purchased either directly at the Red Rock Beer Store or at a variety of locations throughout Utah.
- Opened: March 14, 1994
- Addresses: Red Rock Brewery and Beer Store (443 N. 400 West, Salt Lake City); Red Rock Pub Downtown (254 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City); Red Rock Pub Fashion Place (6227 S. State Street, Murray); Red Rock Pub Park City (1640 W. Redstone Center, Park City)
- Notable: Red Rock became the state’s fourth modern-day craft brewery when it opened its doors in 1994. Since then, its beers have won more than 100 medals and in 2007 Red Rock’s original downtown Salt Lake brewpub was named Large Brewpub of the Year by the Great American Beer Festival.
- Website: https://redrockbrewing.com/
- Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
More on Red Rock Brewery
To hear more about Red Rock Brewery and the beers, please listen to the accompanying podcast episode. And to take a deeper dive, please peruse the following Utah Beer News archive material:
- Red Rock Brewery: New Beers, Facilities, Initiatives (Aug. 16, 2019)
- Beer Tastings: Peaches & Steam — Red Rock Brewing (Feb. 6, 2019)
- Ring In Red Rock’s 12 Days of Christmas (Dec. 3, 2018)
- Beer Tastings: Grand Bavaria — Red Rock Brewing (Oct. 2, 2018)
- Beer Tastings: Mango Berliner Weisse — Red Rock Brewing (June 19, 2018)