RoHa Brewing Project: Striking the Right Balance

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RoHa Brewing Project in Salt Lake City opened in April 2017.

RoHa Brewing Project celebrates its three-year anniversary in April 2020. RoHa may be part of the new-brewery boom in Utah. But its founding brewer is no stranger to the state’s beer scene.

Chris Haas, left, and Rob Phillips, of RoHa Brewing Project.
Chris Haas, left, and Rob Phillips, of RoHa Brewing Project.

Chris Haas — the Ha in RoHa — arrived in Utah in 1996 and began working at Squatters. Then he spent several years as head brewer at Desert Edge Pub & Brewery in Trolley Square.

That’s where he met Rob Phillips — the Ro in RoHa. Rob, an engineer by trade, attended a beer school event taught by Haas and asked the brewer if he needed any volunteers to help around the brewery.

Haas said sure. Phillips showed up the next day (that was about 15 years ago now).

The rest, as they say, is history.

“Haas was a great mentor,” Phillips says. “I got inspired by craft beer and how to make great beer.”

A third partner — Josh Stern, affectionately known as “The Project” — is a real estate agent helped Phillips find a house when he moved to Utah. The two, now neighbors, embarked on a weekly tradition that would transform their lives.

“On Thursdays, we’d bring out a new beer neither of us had had,” Phillips remembers. “We would take notes on it, peel the label, give it a number of stars. Really nerd out.”

For Haas’ part, Phillips continued to pester the brewer about opening their own brewery.

“I had the job I wanted and I liked working at Desert Edge,” Haas says. “But as time rolled on, I was looking for something more, looking to get into ownership. That’s how the conversation started.”

Years of planning and plotting — and notebooks filled with tasting notes, brewery concepts, and more — culminated in a perfect-storm “tornado” on April 21, 2017.

RoHa Brewing Project: In Their Own Words

Utah Beer News | Handcrafted Craft Beer Content to Sip & SavorBonus: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to our interview with Rob Phillips and Chris Haas, co-founders of RoHa Brewing Project. We chat about a variety of topics, including the origins of RoHa, how certain decisions made initially are paying off now, and how the craft beer landscape’s changed since Haas began brewing in Utah in 1996.

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RoHa Brewing Project: An Idea Forms

Long before RoHa poured its first pint, Phillips jotted notes and drafted business plans. At the top of each page, he used Rob + Haas as a placeholder for the brewery name.

“I wasn’t even 100% in on the project and he’d write Rob Haas Brewing Project as an official title to the page,” Haas says.

As discussions deepened, it was Haas who suggested using a combination of their two names for the brewery name. “I thought it had a nice ring to it,” Phillips says.

“As we were talking,” Haas adds, “let’s keep Project because it helps the name stand out a little bit.”

So when Phillips and Haas brought on their third partner — Phillips’ real-estate-agent-Thirsty-Thursday-drinking-neighbor Josh Stern — he became the de facto “Project” in RoHa Brewing Project.

Wheels were spinning faster now. Jump ahead to the days leading up to April 21, 2017.

What was that like?

“Have you ever been inside a tornado?” Haas asks.

“As long as lots of things were breaking inside that tornado,” Phillips adds.

Installing equipment, setting up distribution, purchasing ingredients, working with various government agencies on licensing, permitting, and more. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

“The easiest part was making the beer,” Haas says.

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What’s in a Beer Name?

On the day Utah Beer News visited, RoHa Brewing Project canned a batch of its Thursday IPA. It’s that beer, perhaps more than any other, that represents a dream turned into reality.

RoHa Brewing Project - Thursday IPA - Utah Beer NewsPhillips’ and Stern’s weekly tasting sessions started with a “crazy beer.” But they usually ended with “multiples of what we were into at the time.”

“When we named our IPA, that’s an homage to our Thirsty Thursdays,” Phillips says. “We’d always end up drinking a drinkable, repeatable beer. Not necessarily that crazy, off-the-wall beer you may never want to drink again.”

That idea became Thursday IPA, a 6.5% ABV that pours “brilliant gold with a dry, distinctive hop finish.” It’s available in 12-ounce cans, and it picked up a bronze medal at the 2017 North American Beer Awards.

Haas, meantime, sat in on a tasting session or two back in the day. But he admits the way Phillips and Stern geeked out over the beers isn’t necessarily his style.

“I’m a brewer of beer and a drinker of beer, but less a taster of beer,” Haas says. “I analyze my own beer but not necessarily for fun. People always ask, ‘what do you think of this?’ I says it’s good. When I analyze a beer at a bar, about as deep as I get is, ‘do I want another?'”

One beer he’ll definitely drink in multiples is RoHa’s Three Deep American Ale. Light, crisp, and refreshing, the 5% ABV beer is a solid everyday choice. The name pays homage to the three co-founders, though it also offers a built-in drinking recommendation. “It’s easy to get three deep,” Haas says.

Listen to the Utah Beer News Podcast to hear Phillips and Haas share how some of the brewery’s other beer names came to be.

‘Eat the Elephant’

RoHa Brewing Project knew it wanted to package beer from Day 1.

“I think hindsight would tell us the more normal business model is to have a great taproom space, a restaurant or whatever and then decide to package,” Phillips says. “We decided to eat the elephant. We canned, bottled, and kegged from the get-go.”

RoHa Brewing Project - Canning - Utah Beer NewsRoHa features five beers on draft at its taproom, as well as a rotating guest tap. RoHa still bottles two of its beers and cans the rest of its high-point (5.1%+) offerings. A Wild Goose canning line packages nearly 40 cans of beer per minute within the 15-barrel brewhouse.

The production model helped RoHa achieve local name recognition, though the timing of its opening meant it just missed a critical deadline to initially get its beers into large grocery store chains.

Now, however, in addition to finding RoHa at the source, in state-run liquor stores, or bars and restaurants, its beers are available in grocery and convenience stores throughout Utah. And the brewery recently began distributing to Wyoming.

Fun Fact: RoHa makes a point to “face” each can in a six-pack so the front of the label always faces outward.

A Community Partner

The RoHa Brewing Project taproom is situated on a quiet side street between State and Main on the south end of Salt Lake. From the beginning, Phillips and Haas knew they wanted to contribute more than beer to their community.

RoHa Brewing Project - Maltese Cross Red Ale - Utah Beer NewsSo RoHa didn’t think twice when Salt Lake City Firefighters Local 81 asked to collaborate on a beer to help support local charities.

First available in April 2018, the Maltese Cross Red Ale is a 5% ABV brew available on draft and in cans. Proceeds from beer sales are returned to the community, and every so often firefighters will visit the brewery to help can the beer.

“It’s a great partnership,” Phillips says. “We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the guys and helping out in the community.”

Similarly, RoHa frequently hosts “Pints for a Purpose” in its taproom. The events introduce supporters of area non-profits to local breweries, and vice versa.

“It’s nice for us, and our regulars, to learn a little more about the (non-profit’s) mission,” Phillips says. “Sometimes the organization’s celebrating something or maybe they want a petition signed. We let (the non-profit) decide how they want to do it.”

At the end of the night, RoHa donates 10% of sales to the featured organization.

Over the last two years, RoHa has opened its taproom to organizations such as The INN Between, Salt Lake Animal ServicesSave Our Canyons, the University of Utah Burn Center, and Girls on the Run.

Its next “Pints for a Purpose” events are set for Feb. 13 (Save Our Canyons) and Feb. 27 (Wildlands Network).

About RoHa Brewing Project

RoHa Brewing Project opened in 2017 in Salt Lake City. Rob Phillips (“Ro”) and Chris Haas (“Ha”) are joined by partner Josh Stern, who’s affectionately known as “The Project.”

RoHa Brewing Project - Merchandise - Utah Beer News“It’s a nice balance,” Phillips says. “When I envisioned this plan in 2004, I thought, well I guess I’ll make the beer and sell the beer and figure out how to run everything. As this partnership with Haas came to be, the concept in my head would have been impossible. I’m grateful that I have somebody who can handle the whole beer logistics side of the business and make great beer. It’s a great partnership.”

Haas has spent nearly 25 years brewing beer in Utah, first at Squatters and then at Desert Edge before opening RoHa. The brewery’s taproom features five RoHa beers on draft, as well as a rotating guest tap. RoHa packages beer to be sold at its in-house beer store or to be distributed throughout Utah and now into Wyoming.

  • Opened: April 21, 2017
  • Address: 30 E. Kensington Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115
  • Notable: RoHa’s Kensington Grand Saison and Thursday IPA each earned a bronze medal in the 2017 North American Beer Awards — less than two months after RoHa officially opened its doors. Its Grand Saison brought home silver the following year.
  • Website: https://rohabrewing.com/
  • Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
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