Utah Beer News: 2020 Year in Review

Utah Beer News 2020 Year in Review

Utah Beer News: Brewing Community Perseveres

At the end of each year, it’s natural to reflect on the past and to ponder the future, preferably in front of a warm fire while sipping a decadent barrel-aged beer.

For many, the past several months have been filled with heartache, anguish, and despair. The physical, emotional, and financial strain of COVID-19 has been immense, to say the least.

And, let’s face it, though a vaccine is here, the path forward remains uncertain.

Even before 2020 threw a once-in-a-century gut punch, Utah breweries (as well as bars and restaurants) were already battle-tested. In the best of times, these beloved small businesses fight against unnecessary, antiquated, and often head-scratching forces.

In not-so-good times (now, for instance), the uphill climb for these same businesses seems, from an outsider’s perspective, insurmountable.

Fortunately, as we’ve seen in 2020, Utah’s breweries don’t give up. But that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.

Previously, I called 2018 the Year of the Brewery. And 2019 the Year of Beer in Utah.

As for 2020? Let’s go with the Year to Persevere. Despite incredibly challenging times, to my knowledge, we didn’t witness the permanent closure of any Utah breweries. And the state’s 35 breweries still turned out barrel after barrel of delicious beer.

Scroll to see the site’s most-read articles and the most-downloaded podcast episodes from 2020.

A sign of the times: Utah breweries — such as Bewilder Brewing in Salt Lake — implemented new regulations in an effort to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

A Look Back at 2020

The big story in 2020, obviously, proved to be COVID-19. The hospitality industry, of which breweries are part, shifted course practically overnight. It pivoted to survive, and survive it has.

Read Our Coverage of COVID-19 and the Utah Craft Beer Industry

Nimbleness and creativity caught our eye throughout the year. A few examples:

Giving Back Beers

Several cause-oriented beers hit the market in 2020, and Utah breweries contributed. From All Together, which benefited service-industry employees, to Black is Beautiful, which sought “to bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily,” to others such as Rising Hope and Protect Our Winters, the craft beer industry did its part to raise money for and to shine a light on important issues. Hyper-locally, Fisher Brewing developed a series of six beers to benefit Ken Sanders Rare Books, an iconic Salt Lake bookstore.

‘Can’ Do Attitude

When the shutdown hit, the well ran dry on draft beer. Taprooms switched focus to growlers and Crowlers® to go. Breweries ramped up packaging production to ensure their product was available in grocery stores, liquor stores, and elsewhere. And others — Bewilder Brewing, Desert Edge Brewery, and Fisher Brewing, for instance — began canning beers for the first time.

Sanitizer Sells

For some reason, when the pandemic hit people began hoarding toilet paper. A product in equally short supply — which makes sense — was hand sanitizer. Local breweries and distilleries, including Salt Flats Brewery and Sugar House Distillery, worked to boost the sanitizer supply chain by producing the sought-after product in-house.

Patio Pints

Enjoying a München Helles on the patio at T.F. Brewing.

Opportunities to congregate beyond our immediate family for much of 2020 were understandably limited. Beer festivals were non-existent, as were concerts, baseball games, and other summertime staples.

Yet through it all, drinking outside — socially distanced and masked up — seemed to provide a safer way to enjoy our suds.

Fortunately, the Utah Beer Scene is filled with excellent spots to sip brews outdoors. A rough tally shows about two-thirds of Utah’s breweries and finer beer joints offer some sort of outdoor seating option. And a few that weren’t set up for patio drinking — RoHa Brewing Project and SaltFire Brewing, for instance — went to work this summer to make that option available to customers.

Outside the (Juicy IPA) Box

Not necessarily pandemic related, but it was refreshing to see several local breweries turn out a pair of beer styles that usually don’t get the recognition or shelf space they deserve (in my opinion). I counted nearly a half-dozen Barleywine Ales hit the market this year (2 Row, Grid City, Level Crossing, Proper, Kiitos/Uinta) and about as many Brown Ales (Bewilder, Hopkins, RoHa, Squatters). These beers have been a welcome companion as I attempted to power through the final weeks of 2020.

Most-Read Utah Beer News Articles From 2020

Grid City Beer Works. From left: Jeremy Gross, head brewer; Drew Reynolds, CEO; Justin Belliveau, president
Grid City Beer Works. From left: Jeremy Gross, head brewer; Drew Reynolds, CEO; Justin Belliveau, president

Even though 2020 didn’t provide us with a Pie & Beer Day in the traditional sense (it, like so many events in 2020, went largely virtual), plenty of people were interested in learning more about it.

The most-read article in 2020 actually was written about the 2019 Pie & Beer Day festivities. And on July 24, 2020, that article earned Utah Beer News its highest-traffic day of the year.

Top 10 Articles

In terms of Utah Beer News articles written in 2020, these were the most popular:

  1. Wasatch Brewery: Driving Innovation at ‘Top of Main’ (Aug. 24) — Any business, let alone a brewery in Utah, doesn’t survive for more than three decades without striking a balance between consistency and innovation. And for Wasatch Brewery, which opened its doors in Park City in 1986, it’s spent 34 years doing exactly that.
  2. Utah Beer News: Are Your Favorite Breweries Open? (May 26) — Our weekly updates tried to keep beer drinkers up-to-date on the statuses of local breweries.
  3. ‘Baptist Season:’ Epic Brewing Announces 2020 Big Bad Baptist Lineup (Sept. 17) — This year’s lineup included five variants.
  4. Coronavirus Update No. 7: Utah Breweries Brace for Next Phase (April 30) — Gov. Gary Herbert’s Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan identified May 1 as the date restaurants could once again welcome dine-in customers.
  5. Scaled-Back Oktoberfest Festivities on Tap in Utah (Sept. 19) — A compilation of local events to celebrate Oktoberfest.
  6. Ogden Beer: A Thriving Craft Beer Scene in Northern Utah (Feb. 19) — A guide to Ogden’s booming craft beer scene.
  7. Coronavirus Update No. 2: Utah Breweries Show Resilience (March 25) — Early in the pandemic, it’s incredible to see the craft beer community — on both sides of the bar — stepping up.
  8. Coronavirus Update No. 8: Breweries Get Go-Ahead to Reopen (May 8) — Our weekly update soon after breweries were allowed to once again welcome dine-in customers.
  9. Grid City Beer Works: Where Innovation & Tradition Meet (May 11) — The brewery that opened in the midst of a pandemic endeared itself to the public. And then it went on to medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
  10. Coronavirus Outbreak: Utah Breweries React & Respond (March 16) — Our initial piece on what would become a constant thread throughout 2020 ultimately became our most-read article.

Most-Downloaded Podcast Episodes From 2020

Wasatch Brewery - Photo Credit Viktor Krstev
Our interview with Wasatch Brewery Head Brewer Nils Imboden was the most-downloaded Utah Beer News podcast of 2020. Photo Credit: Viktor Krstev
  1. Bonneville Brewery (Jan. 23) — Located 35 miles to the west of the capital city, the Tooele-based brewery is well worth the drive — not only for the beer but also for the brewpub fare and the stunning scenery.
  2. 2020 Utah Beer News Beer Bracket Challenge (March 16) — Perhaps the only March Madness bracket anyone filled out this year.
  3. RoHa Brewing Project (Feb. 5) We visit with two of the three brewery founders about a variety of topics, including the origins of RoHa and how certain decisions made initially are paying off now.
  4. Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company (June 29) — From five gallons at a time to where it is today, Zólupez is Utah’s only (and one of the nation’s few) Latino-owned breweries.
  5. Wasatch Brewery (Aug. 24) — An insightful look at Utah’s oldest modern-day brewery from its current head brewer became our most-downloaded episode of the year.

Check Out Our Monthly Essays We Sent to Email Subscribers

Notable Events 2020

Throughout the year, I jotted down several events I considered to be notable in the world of Utah beer. Here are a few highlights:

January

Bewilder-Brewing-Gift-Cards-and-Growler
  • Jan. 8: The Cotton Bottom Inn announces it will close temporarily. The owners of Bar X and Beer Bar bought the Holladay landmark and plan to renovate and remodel. It’s scheduled to re-open in Fall 2020, which it did.
  • Jan. 14: Mountain West Hard Cider invites industry representatives to taste test several experimental ciders. One will become the Salt Lake cidery’s newest year-round offering. And that one is Sweet Alice, which debuted in May.
  • Jan. 17: Bewilder Brewing holds its official grand opening celebration. The Salt Lake brewery opened in mid-December 2019, but due to licensing restrictions, Bewilder couldn’t start brewing its own beer until Jan. 1. Bewilder opened with a Hefeweizen and an ESB on tap, in addition to six beers brewed in collaboration with other breweries.
  • Jan. 27: Lone Pine Brewing announces it will begin distributing to Utah. The Portland, Maine, brewery earned bronze at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival for its Chaos Emeralds Hazy IPA. Golden Beverage will distribute Lone Pine in Utah.

February

  • Feb. 6: SaltFire Brewing unveils what is believed to be Utah’s first foeder. The 20-hectoliter vessel is filled with 620 gallons of SaltFire’s base sour beer. The brewery plans to draw off about half its volume at any given time to fruit and/or release as a one-off sour beer.
  • Feb. 9: Two Utah breweries win medals at the 2020 Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Ore. The competition featured more than 2,200 entries from 375 breweries around the world. T.F. Brewing won gold for its Leichte Weiss (in the Other German-style Wheat Beer). Uinta earned silver for its Yard Sale (German-style Märzen or Oktoberfest) and bronze for Golden Spike (American-style Wheat Beer).
  • Feb. 10: T.F. Brewing launches its barrel-aged program by releasing Jesse Delmar. A 12% ABV Imperial Stout, the beer aged for 13 months in High West whiskey barrels.
  • Feb. 14: Kiitos Brewing begins offering beer flights at its taproom.
  • Feb. 18: In a 4-3 vote, the Provo City Council approves a land-use amendment that could clear the way for brewpubs to operate within two downtown zones and a key shopping district.
  • Feb. 22: Fisher Brewing Company celebrates its three-year anniversary by releasing an Anniversary IPA.

March

Utah Beer News | Coronavirus Update
  • March 12: Proper Brewing Co. celebrates its fourth anniversary with a circus-themed party at its Main Street brewery and taproom.
  • March 15: The coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak begins to impact Utah’s breweries. Heber Valley Brewing announces it will temporarily close its taproom. It still offers beer to-go, however. The next day, on March 16, Uinta Brewing announced it would close its brewhouse pub. Other breweries announced various steps they were taking to help combat the spread of coronavirus. Grid City Beer Works, which had planned to open later in March, suspended its grand opening indefinitely.
  • March 16: In what could go down as Black Monday for Utah Beer, the Salt Lake County Health Department orders all bars and restaurants to effectively shut down for up to 30 days. Curbside and takeout orders will still be allowed but dine-in eating and drinking are suspended. Before the mandate, Heber Valley Brewing, Uinta Brewing, and Fisher Brewing all announced they were voluntarily closing temporarily. By the end of the day, all breweries reportedly had complied with the government order. The state-run liquor stores, however, remain open.
  • March 17: Many breweries begin selling to-go beer only and offering curbside food service.
  • March 17: Utah Beer News publishes its inaugural March Madness Beer Bracket Challenge. We recorded the podcast in early March.
  • March 18: The Salt Lake Valley experiences a 5.7-magnitude earthquake. It forces many breweries to temporarily close after losing power.
  • March 20: Salt Flats Spirits (and Salt Flats Brewery) begins producing hand sanitizer since there is a shortage of the product due to COVID-19.
  • March 27: Level Crossing Brewing releases its first small-batch canned beer. Space Oddity is a Hazy Double IPA that clocks in at 8.8% ABV. The brewery also celebrates its one-year anniversary.

April

Chris Haas, left, and Rob Phillips, of RoHa Brewing Project.
Chris Haas, left, and Rob Phillips, of RoHa Brewing Project. The brewery celebrated its third anniversary in 2020.
  • April 1: The Brewers Association releases its list of the Top 50 Craft Brewers for 2019. The top nine breweries remain unchanged from 2018, including CANarchy (which includes Squatters Craft Beers and Wasatch Brewery) at No. 8. Uinta Brewing, ranked No. 42 in 2018, dropped off this year’s list. The breweries are ranked by sales volume.
  • April 2: Shades Brewing releases its “Kveik Earthquake Series” of beers.
  • April 7: Breweries celebrate National Beer Day. It arrives amid the COVID-19 shutdown.
  • April 21: RoHa Brewing Project celebrates its three-year anniversary.
  • April 23: Grid City Beer Works, which had originally planned to open in mid-March, begins offering food and beer to-go. Its initial beer offerings, available in 32-ounce crowlers, include: House Pilsner, Hoppy Pilsner, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Cream Ale.
  • April 24: T.F. Brewing releases its version of All Together, a worldwide collaboration project spearheaded by Other Half Brewing in New York. Hundreds of breweries around the world are brewing a New England-style IPA to benefit service industry workers. Sales of the T.F. version will directly benefit the brewery’s staff.
  • April 25: Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House celebrates its seventh anniversary.

May

  • May 1: Restrictions are eased on dine-in service and several bars, breweries, and restaurants open to sit-in customers on a limited basis. Among the breweries re-opening today: Bewilder Brewing, Talisman Brewing, and UTOG Brewing. Several others outlined plans to open in the next two weeks.
  • May 11-17: American Craft Beer Week carries on with several Utah breweries opting for “virtual” events in place of traditional gatherings.
  • May 16: Several Utah breweries participate in Festi-GO, a to-go beer festival. Breweries schedule music and food trucks to entertain patrons as they pick up beer to-go. Lingering to enjoy the atmosphere is not encouraged.
  • May 16: SaltFire Brewing celebrates its two-year anniversary by releasing Mobius Trip: Fate Bell. The blonde ale is aged in Sotol barrels. SaltFire then adds lime peel and salt to create a Gose-style beer with flavors of margaritas.
  • May 17: Utah Beer News celebrates its two-year anniversary.
  • May 20: Fans of Mountain West Hard Cider in several states outside Utah are now able to purchase Mountain West ciders online. It uses the Bevv.com service.
  • May 27:  Pomme Paloma is the first cider in what Mountain West Hard Cider is dubbing “The Little Orchard Series.” The series will feature a limited-edition, small-batch that rotates throughout the year and will only be available at the Mountain West bottle shop.

June

A flight from Grid City Beer Works. The Salt Lake brewery opened its doors in 2020.
  • June 4: Grid City Beer Works opens its taproom to the public for the first time. It had been selling beer and food to-go since mid-April but due to the coronavirus restrictions it hadn’t yet opened its 6,600-square-foot brewery/pub.
  • June 10: The popular Hops Hunters Hikes return for 2020.
  • June 12: Between June 5-12, T.F. Brewing donates 50% of sales of its Ferda Imperial IPA to the Utah Black Chamber and the NAACP Salt Lake chapter. It raised more than $5,000.
  • June 17: The Bayou begins selling crowlers to-go.
  • June 23: Toasted Barrel Brewery celebrates its two-year anniversary.

July

To Be Home from Toasted Barrel is believed to be the “first true outside spontaneous fermentation beer” brewed in Utah.
  • July 1: SaltFire Brewing participates in the Black is Beautiful campaign. The collaborative effort is designed “to raise awareness for the injustices people of color face daily and raise funds for police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged,” organizers explain. More than 1,100 breweries from all 50 states and 21 countries are brewing the collaboration beer — a 10% ABV Imperial Stout (though breweries are given leeway to improvise). SaltFire released a 5% ABV Oatmeal Stout on July 1. Fisher Brewing, Kiitos Brewing, Red Rock Brewing, and Wasatch Brewery also participated, according to the Black is Beautiful website.
  • July 1: Toasted Barrel Brewery introduces what it believes to be the “first true outside spontaneous fermentation beer” brewed in Utah. To Be Home, the first in Toasted Barrel’s “To Be” series, went on sale on July 1 at the brewery. The beer has been aged in white wine barrels and features local grains, backyard-grown hops, Utah water, and yeast cultivated near the brewer’s home.
  • July 9: Organizers cancel the 2020 Beehive Brewoff homebrew competition.
  • July 10: Kiitos Brewing re-opens its taproom. It now features 29 tap handles and a patio.
  • July 23: Hopkins Brewing Co. becomes the state’s first Craft Malt Certified Brewery.
  • July 31: BeerdBus Brew Tours begins chartering brewery tours in Ogden and Salt Lake City

August

Utah Beer Festival 2019 - Utah Beer News 2
The Utah Beer Festival, Utah’s biggest two-day beer event, didn’t take place in 2020.
  • Aug. 1: City Weekly cancels the 11th Annual Utah Beer Festival, which had been slated for Aug. 15-16.
  • Aug. 3: For the first time in the event’s nearly five-decade existence, Snowbird’s Oktoberfest is canceled.
  • Aug. 17: Anheuser-Busch InBev floats the idea that Budweiser should be named the Official State Beer of Utah. We outline the issue in our September e-newsletter and ask for nominations for what really should be Utah’s state beer.

September

  • Sept. 8: Wind gusts topping 100-mph topple trees and wreak havoc up and down the Wasatch Front. Several breweries found themselves in clean-up mode — many without power — and unable to open today. It’s just one more obstacle thrown at Utah brewers in 2020.
  • Sept. 8: Craft Café, a new venture by Squatters Craft Beers and Wasatch Brewery, opens near the airport.
  • Sept. 16: Squatters Pub Brewery opens at the new Salt Lake City International Airport.

October

Shades Brewing celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a series of special collaboration beers.
  • Oct. 10: Shades Brewing (formerly Shades of Pale Brewing) celebrates its 10-year anniversary. Leading up to the big day, the South Salt Lake brewery released several beers that it brewed in collaboration with other local breweries and restaurants.
  • Oct. 16: Utah breweries win three medals at the 2020 Great American Beer Festival, which is held virtually. Proper Brewing Co. won Gold for its Proper Beer, beating out 92 other entries in the English Ale category. T.F. Brewing earned Bronze for its Granary Kellerbier and Grid City Beer Works picked up a Bronze for its Honey Cream Ale. More than 8,800 beers competed in 91 categories.
  • Oct. 20: Prodigy Brewing announces on Instagram that it is “coming to Cache Valley in early 2021.”
  • Oct. 26: TF Brewing celebrates its two-year anniversary.
  • Oct. 27: Wasatch Brewing and Uinta Brewing each open up locations inside the new Salt Lake International Airport. They join Squatters Craft Beers — a longtime resident of the old airport — with a presence in the new facility.
  • Oct. 28: Ogden River Brewing officially opens, becoming the 41st brewhouse in Utah, according to Utah Beer Blog. It’s the 35th brewery in the state, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

November

  • Nov. 2: Policy Kings Brewery in Cedar City celebrates its two-year anniversary.
  • Nov. 4: Slackwater Pub & Pizzeria in Sandy celebrates its one-year anniversary.
  • Nov. 9: Mountain West Hard Cider celebrates its five-year anniversary.
  • Nov. 16: Utah Beer Blog celebrates its 15-year anniversary. Mike Riedel collaborated with local breweries on four collaboration beers, proceeds of which benefit the Utah Food Bank.
  • Nov. 28: Fisher Brewing teams up with Ken Sanders Rare Books to brew a series of beers designed to benefit the longtime Salt Lake bookstore. The beers will be based on Edward Abbey’s novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

December

“A damn good beer for a damn awful year.” — Desert Edge Brewery
  • Dec. 2: Closed since March, the Uinta Brewhouse Pub reopens. It worked a deal with Nomad Eatery to provide the food.
  • Dec. 5: Policy Kings Brewery releases its first high-point canned beer. The Cedar City brewery released 01-01-01, a 7.8% ABV hazy IPA.
  • Dec. 5: Desert Edge Brewery releases its first high-point canned beer. The 7.1% ABV 2020 IPA is an unfiltered American IPA that proclaims to be “a damn good beer for a damn awful year.”
  • Dec. 13: Bewilder Brewing celebrates its one-year anniversary.
  • Dec. 15: Uinta Brewing partners with various Utah ski resorts to launch a seasonal variety pack. It aims to raise funds and promote the work done by Protect Our Winters.
  • Dec. 17: Fisher Brewing partners with Boise River Canning to can four of its beers. It began offering Fisher Beer, Double IPA, Hazification IPA, and Sweater Party Pale Ale in 16-ounce cans to go.
  • Dec. 21: As part of its $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, the U.S. Congress includes language to make the existing federal excise tax rate for small independent breweries permanent.
  • Dec. 29: Level Crossing announces it will start shipping beer to a handful of states using the Bevv.com service.
Ogden River Brewing opened on Oct. 28, joining Grid City Beer Works as new breweries in Utah in 2020.

2020 New Breweries

The following breweries opened their doors in 2020. For a full list of Utah breweries and beer-centric watering holes, please visit our Craft Beer Resources page.

2020 Noteworthy Beers

The following are a few beers I found noteworthy in 2020 (ordered alphabetically by brewery).

Red Sea Rift, an imperial coffee stout from Level Crossing Brewing Co.

Full disclosure: I didn’t drink nearly as much beer this year, and I rarely found myself at a Day 1 release event. Therefore, I missed out on a lot of the limited-release beers. Yet I still found some great ones!

What local beers did you drink this year that you particularly enjoyed? Let me know!

  • Old Fence Wrecker Barleywine (2 Row Brewing)
  • Stimulus Check (2 Row Brewing)
  • El Guapo Vienna Lager (Bewilder Brewing)
  • Mole Porter (Bewilder Brewing)
  • Cool Fuzz Hazy IPA (Bonneville Brewery)
  • Big Bad Baptist (Chocolate Raspberry) (Epic Brewing)
  • Hoppy Pilsner (Grid City Beer Works)
  • Deseret Dunkel (Hopkins Brewing)
  • The Black Album Imperial Black Rye IPA (Level Crossing Brewing)
  • Red Sea Rift Imperial Coffee Stout (Level Crossing Brewing)
  • Veni, Vini, Bibi Pilsner (Proper Brewing Co.)
  • 10-Year Anniversary Triple IPA (Shades Brewing)
  • High on the Hop Lazy IPA (RoHa Brewing Project)
  • Straight Strata Fresh Hopped Pale Ale (TF Brewing)
  • Jesse Delmar Imperial Stout (TF Brewing)
  • To Be Home Lambic-style Ale (Toasted Barrel Brewery)
  • Ataraxy Hazy IPA (Uinta Brewing)
  • Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout (Wasatch Brewery)
  • Landbier Swiss-Style Lager (Wasatch Brewery)
  • Lager Mexicano (Zólupez Beer Company)
Wasatch Landbier Swiss-Style Lager

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Utah Beer News published 51 articles and 15 podcast episodes in 2020, our second full year delivering stories of and for brewers, breweries, and everyday imbibers. 

Tim Haran - Profile - Utah Beer News

We continued to build communities on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And we delivered a monthly dispatch to more than 800 email subscribers.

Over the last week or so, I’ve spent time mapping out a content calendar for 2021. I’m hoping it will help maintain the “news” aspect of Utah Beer News, while also highlighting interesting personalities in the Utah beer world.

As always, I’m open to any and all suggestions for website articles or podcast episodes.

For the third year, I’m planning to send out a survey to email subscribers in January. You can help guide the coverage. If you’re not on the list, sign up here.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with story ideas, interview subjects, or beer-related items you’re curious about.

Thank you for being part of the Utah Beer News community. Cheers to 2021! 🍻

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