In racing, the top drivers know exactly when to make their move. Lap after lap, they calculate what it’ll take to capture the checkered flag. Pass here, draft there. Make a pit stop or chance a few extra laps out on the track. It’s all about speed, timing, and maneuvering for position.
Salt Flats Brewing, fueled by a desire to expand its reach and become a successful regional brewery, knew it was time to make its move.
Scroll for an update to the intitial article, which includes news about Salt Flats Spirits hitting shelves in late 2019.
Bonus: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to the full interview with Salt Flats Brewing. Hear brewery representatives talk about the market they’re trying to serve, get a firsthand glimpse inside the unique taproom, and listen to their thoughts on the Utah craft beer scene.
‘Go Full Throttle’
The RPM Brewery branding worked well when the beer poured from taps only at the company-owned Garage Grill. A 15-gallon (one keg) brew system kept beer flowing from 20 taps at the racing-themed restaurant in Draper, Utah.
But the brewery had its sights set much higher. Management realized that the RPM name didn’t resonate with beer drinkers outside the pub. If it wanted to expand, a shift was needed.
“When we decided to go full throttle — that we’re going to get in the beer business — we did some market analysis and said this name’s not going to work,” says Jeremy Ford, director of operations. “We want to be a regional brand and to do that, the name’s not going to work.”
In March 2018, Salt Flats unveiled for the public its “new” name (it’s always been the company’s legal name). Near that time, it also started ramping up its distribution of beers on draft and in 12-ounce cans around the state. Almost overnight, new branding began appearing prominently on beer can labels, online, and within other marketing materials. Toward the end of 2018, a new corporate logo made an appearance.
The move aimed to better position the brewery for long-term success. But that’s not to say it didn’t cause some short-term marketplace confusion.
“You’ve got people who knew the beer, liked the beer, and they’re out looking for RPM,” says JC Straub, who oversees operations at the Garage Grill as well as marketing for Salt Flats. “We want to make sure (the customer knows) it’s the same great beer, just a fresh new look.”
So far, Straub adds, it’s proven to be a small bump in the road.
Salt Flats: Full Speed Ahead
The rebrand came about six months after Scott Parker — impressive résumé in hand — joined Salt Flats as its head brewer.
Parker earned an International Diploma in Brewing Technology from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. His professional brewing career started in San Diego, and he spent eight years at Central California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co. before arriving at Salt Flats in August 2017.
He almost landed in Utah without a job. Parker got a call from Salt Flats a week before he and his wife’s planned move to the Beehive State (she’s attending dental school in Utah).
“It’s been an adventure,” he says. “I got in, was handed a 15-gallon homebrew system, and was told we need 20 beers on tap.”
At the time Parker left Firestone Walker, in early 2017, the brewery operated a 250-barrel brewhouse, he says. After its initial 15-gallon setup at Garage Grill, the brewery has since expanded to a 10-barrel brewhouse. Salt Flats brewed 700 barrels (about 22,000 gallons) of beer in 2018 and is aiming to double or triple that number this year, Parker says.
Still a drop in the bucket comparatively, but Parker enjoys “slowly making (his) way through all the beer styles.” Brewing to fill such an array of tap handles affords him the opportunity to experiment and get creative.
The Salt Flats plan always included 20 beers on tap — at 4%, per Utah law — to provide “vast amounts of styles and flavors for everybody,” Parker says.
The lineup now includes three full-strength beers: Kilted Harley Scottish Ale, Slipstream Double IPA, and Tank Slapper, an Imperial Rye IPA. Each clocks in at 9% ABV. Perhaps giving a wink to the statement, if you’re not first you’re last, Salt Flats laughs, “if we’re not going to do it at 4%, we’re going to do it at 9%.”
A Tap Room Unlike Any Other
From the outside, it’s an industrial building not unlike many others in and around Salt Lake City. But once inside, the Salt Flats brewery-slash-taproom-slash-racecar-showroom is a sight to behold.
“It doesn’t feel like a normal brewery,” Ford says. “You have a vibe and undertone of racing everywhere. Steve’s collection of vehicles is astronomical and the quality of vehicles is really interesting.”
In a 2009 American Le Mans Series race, Pruitt’s Corsa Motorsports team made history by becoming the first hybrid-powered car to finish in the top three in the U.S.
That car is on display at Garage Grill, but several others are parked inside the production brewery.
“A lot of what we do has this theme of racing because we’re surrounded by it,” says Ford, noting the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, located 125 miles west of the brewery, as well as the former Miller Motorsports Park and Rocky Mountain Raceways.
As one door closed for Pruitt, another opened. The brewery now occupies a building that used to serve as a home base for his Le Mans teams — a one-time garage filled with mechanics bays and racecar transport trucks.
“We had this facility and decided this was a great place to brew beer,” Ford says.
The taproom opened in November 2018 with a full lineup of Salt Flats beers. In the near future, the brewery plans to introduce a small bites menu. A private-event area is located on a second-floor space overlooking the brewery. The building also houses a package store that features merchandise and cold beer to go.
A Driving Force
In 18 months since Salt Flats decided to go “full throttle,” the brewery’s stepped on the gas. And it doesn’t show signs of slowing down, though it wouldn’t reveal specifics.
“There are some pretty big things coming in 2019,” Ford says. “Beer-related stuff, non-beer-related stuff. It’s going to be a really good year for us.”
In November 2019, several months after our initial visit to Salt Flats, the brewery began releasing a series of canned cocktails. It established Salt Flats Spirits and released bottles of light rum, gin, and vodka the following month. Its lineup now includes Bonneville Bourbon Whiskey.
And in March 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Salt Flats began packaging hand sanitizer.
Audio: Download the Utah Beer News Podcast to listen to Salt Flats discuss its target market for its beer.
About Salt Flats Brewing
The brewery’s taproom is currently open Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Plans are to extend operating hours in the near future.
- Founded: 2017 (RPM Brewery opened in Garage Grill in 2016)
- Address: 2020 Industrial Cir., Salt Lake City, UT 84104
- Notable: Owner Steve Pruitt’s extensive background in auto racing permeates Salt Flats’ operations. From beer names — Daytona IPA, Top Gear Amber Ale, P1 Pilsner, etc. — to marketing materials to race cars in its brewery, the intersection between racing and beer meets squarely at Salt Flats.
- Website: http://saltflatsbeer.com/
- Social Media: Facebook, Instagram