Nicole Dicou, executive director of the Utah Brewers Guild, is excited to talk about Utah’s booming craft beer scene.
And why not?
New breweries are popping up and pouring pints at a frenetic pace.
At last count, 25 breweries are serving Utah’s craft beer drinkers. Several more are planning to open this year or next.
“We’ve definitely seen a significant upswing since the early 2010s,” Dicou says.
Why is that?
“The interest in craft brewing has increased because honestly, people are curious,” she says over lunch at Salt Lake’s Red Rock Brewery, one of the state’s longest-tenured craft brewers. “They’re exploring different styles, different types, and trying to find the next cool thing.”
To Promote & Protect
The Guild, which Dicou’s led since early July, is tasked with promoting and protecting the craft beer industry in Utah. It’s a 501(c)6 non-profit trade organization “founded to provide a unified voice for Utah craft breweries.”
The Utah Brewers Guild formed in 2005 and it incorporated a few years later. But only recently has it sought to become a stronger voice for Utah craft brewers.
Each of the state’s 25 breweries is a dues-paying member. Dicou notes that similar organizations in other states find it difficult to maintain a 100% membership rate.
“We’re lucky to have a cohesive group of craft brewers who really want to change the landscape of beer drinking in Utah,” Dicou says.
Advocating for Craft Brewers
Dicou brings a wealth of relevant experience to the helm of the Utah Brewers Guild. She worked for Congressman Jim Matheson in Washington D.C. and, more recently, she served as associate director of Equality Utah.
“Government affairs, nonprofit management, and creating a holistic organizational structure is my bread and butter,” she says. “The Guild is ready to take that next step.”
The Guild, Dicou says, is a “funnel point” where concerns from Utah craft brewers — and potentially legislative needs — can be directed. It helps to facilitate conversations and promote the craft beer industry in Utah.
“Before now, the stakes haven’t been as high as they are,” she says.
One issue likely to be discussed on Capitol Hill during the next legislative session is that of beer in grocery and convenience stores. Or, more specifically, whether to change a law that prohibits the sale of beverages with an alcohol content higher than 4% alcohol-by-volume (or 3.2% alcohol-by-weight).
Utah breweries would like higher-alcohol beer to be sold in such stores, though Dicou says the Guild recommended that a “hard cap” percentage-wise not be put in place.
“It’s proposed unofficially (to allow up to) 6%, but we’d like to make that more open-ended so it’s not so defined,” she says. “I see the UBG being an instrumental part in managing that.”
Being able to present a unified front in such matters, Dicou says, helps the entire craft beer community.
“Brewers advocate for their own interests but there are uniform pieces that touch every brewer and brewery in the state,” she says. “Without (an organization unifying) these common goals, it’s harder to defend interests, especially at the legislature.”
The Utah Brewers Guild and You
The craft beer industry in Utah employs 5,000 people and injects $450 million into the economy, according to the Utah Brewers Guild.
To that end, it’s important for average beer drinkers to play a part. In the coming months, the Guild is hosting events designed to educate craft enthusiasts on a variety of topics.
In October, Neil Witte, the quality ambassador for the Brewers Association, will speak about what quality means to today’s brewer. And in November, Meagen J. Anderson of Mill95 Hops will conduct a hops sensory course.
The Guild is also considering implementing “meet-ups” for brewers and beer drinkers to interact, taste beers, and learn about different breweries.
Cheers to Craft Beer
As we finished our lunch at Red Rock, Dicou offered one piece of advice for today’s craft beer drinker.
“Try a new brewery you’ve never been to,” she says.
Considering the exponential growth in Utah breweries, that’s becoming easier to do all the time.