An Update on the Utah Brewers Guild; Last Year’s ‘Wild Ride,’ & More

Photo Credit: Utah Brewers Guild

It’s no secret that the last year proved to be a monumental stress test for Utah’s hospitality industry. And while several local breweries bent to seemingly impossible angles, none broke. They are all still here and continuing to produce delicious beers.

In Episode 52 of the Utah Beer News Podcast, we chat with Jeremy Ragonese, president of Uinta Brewing and past president of the Utah Brewers Guild. He gives an update on the Guild, as well as an overview of what the past year looked like from his perspective and what the future may hold for Utah’s craft beer scene as we emerge from the pandemic.

In response to COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, many breweries reconfigured their business models to better capitalize on curbside culture. All became well-versed in public health safety and COVID-19-era sanitation practices.

Jeremy Ragonese, president of Uinta Brewing and past-president of the Utah Brewers Guild
Jeremy Ragonese, president of Uinta Brewing and past president of the Utah Brewers Guild

And several got creative. Not for fun, but out of necessity.

They turned parking lots into patios, figured out ways to package products to-go, ramped up social media promotion, and worked to create socially distant events.

All this while adhering to Utah’s strict alcohol regulations (some of which were eased during the pandemic).

On top of that, an aluminum can shortage last fall left breweries scrambling to fulfill packaging demand.

“It’s been a remarkably wild ride for anyone in this industry,” Ragonese says. “This industry’s always been resilient for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s the startup mode where brewers have to dig in and bootstrap something that’s near and dear to their hearts. It’s still a passion-driven business. For this particular reason, you saw breweries do some really quick pivots.”

Podcast Episode 52: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

Download the full podcast episode for the entire conversation. Here are a few snippets on topics we covered:

  • The departure of Utah Brewers Guild Executive Director Nico Dicou in May 2020, and the Guild’s roadmap going forward.
    • “We’re eager to get back behind some of the things the Guild was already engaged in,” Ragonese says. “Which is a lot of public awareness around Utah craft beer, support for all the breweries that are starting up here. In general, engaging with the community of beer drinkers in as many ways as we can.”
  • Whether pandemic-era legislation or the easing of certain regulations will continue in a post-COVID environment”
    • “There are openings in all kinds of different ways for some flexibility, but as we’ve seen in Utah even in just a matter of days, there’s some conflicting legal framework in Utah that has created some tensions,” Ragonese says. “The DABC is trying to work through that and trying to help the legislature understand where those challenges are.”
  • The interaction between the Guild and Tiffany Clason, the new director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC).
    • “I credit Director Clason,” Ragonese says. “She’s been very open and willing to have conversations. She’s really been a great addition. My hope is that if the Guild can continue to have a seat at the table and if suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers can get more alignment together that policy will reflect more sensible outcomes for everyone.”
  • And how the Guild serves as “a conduit to the community.”
    • “In my sense, the Guild has a real responsibility to promote the craft brewing members and to really build that sense of community,” Ragonese says. “There’s a whole lot more going on (in Utah) than people probably realize because we’re not known as an alcohol-producing state. At the end of the day, the Brewers Guild has a responsibility to make people aware of that and continuing to champion the brewers themselves.”

Upcoming: American Craft Beer Week

Toward the end of our conversation, we talked about the upcoming American Craft Beer Week (May 10-16). As in past years, it’s an opportunity for beer drinkers to get out and support their local breweries.

“I can tell you this, if at any time in history that I would encourage people to go out and buy a craft beer from their local partners or local brewers, now is the time,” Ragonese says. “In the last year or so we’ve all survived this. We’re not out of the woods by any stretch.”

We’ll have more on American Craft Beer Week, including a Virtual Taproom with Uinta Brewing, in May.