Salt Lake salvation
By Gregg Smith
Standing at the four corners you turn northwest and start moving. As you
travel there are symbols of bee hives and sea gulls, references to a settlers
land of milk and honey and the salvation from a grasshopper swarm of biblical
proportions. A tourist's vision of this region is either a Great Salt Lake
or a desert city with strange outdated laws, like only allowing sales of
domestic 3.2 beers on Holidays. Despite this there are places to go for
fresh and satisfying brew.
In Salt Lake your oasis is Squatters. The significance of the name is a
mystery even to the staff, but there seems to be no connection with anything
to do with the rest rooms. Located downtown, and a three block walk from the
old Salt Palace, the building is an old turn of the century hotel which
catered to the working man. In its day it rented 9X12 rooms for 25 cents a
night. The upper floors remained a hotel of this type until 1960 when a
mishap in the dry cleaner\laundry on the main floor caused extensive damage.
Following the accident several business cycled through until 1989 when Jeff
Polychronis and Peter Cole saw the building in a whole new light. The two
friends had been in the commercial real estate business for 12 years and were
looking for a change. Both of them were beer enthusiasts and had sampled
most of the Northwest micro brews. A brew pub seemed a natural choice and
the old hotel was selected for a go of it.
The ale house is set-up in a three level, all grain, gravity system built
around a JV Northwest 7 barrel kettle and originally had four 7 barrel
fermenters. Within one month a 14 barrel fermenter was added along with
another 14 barrel fermenter during the first summer and a third in 1992.
Unfortunately all this success has used up the floor space and thus the
search is on to start up yet another brewpub. The idea is to begin brewing
in the second location, then to move into local distribution of kegs and
finally to open as a separate brewpub.
As you pass through the door titled "Salt Lake Brewing Company" you enter an
expansive room with a high exposed raftered ceiling. Along the left wall
there is a large fire place built of cobblestones recovered from a street
refurbishing project. Ironically these stones were originally located
alongside the Mormon temple; what heresy for the old stones to stand guard
here! On the opposite wall is the bar with a glass walled back showcasing
stainless steel tanks. Throughout the pub there are wooden pegs for ski
jackets and in the summer the outdoor patio has piped in Jazz and alfresco
Sales used to peak around the ski season, but as Salt Lake has grown into a
more urban and heterogenous population the demand forbeer has reached a
fairly steady year round level. A result of the brewery size and high demand
is a brewing staff of Jennifer Talley, Eric Buehner and Dan Burick. Dan got
his start as an all grain homebrewer who heard about the squatters project
months before it opened. He readily admits he rather thrust himself into
their midst by always hanging around during construction. As the brewery got
more and more busy he found himself on staff and attending the Seibel
Institute. According to Dan there was never any regret in leaving his job in
the world of finance and insurance. Producing only 3.2 beers, which
translates to starting gravities of around 1.040, is a challenge for the
brewers but does reap many benefits. Under Utah's liquor laws their level of
beer does not require the usual restrictive hours which burdens most bars,
and at Squatters you can buy "just a beer" without the usual requirement for
a concurrent purchase of food.
Generally there are four or five beers available including weizen, amber,
pale ale, porter and stout. All were very clean and bright with a proper
amount of carbonation for each type. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of
this brew pub is their ability to produce good ales that meet the Utah 3.2
requirement. The weizen had a nice pale yellow color, faint nose of clove,
and a balanced mellow, drinkable mid-taste with no hop bite. The stout is a
favorite, a toasty flavored version with chocolate, smoky, nutty undertones.
Low hops and esters were appropriate for the style and though the color was
a touch light it's still a good example of a dry stout. The amber was
typical of the generic brew pub style and proves a reliable choice. The pale
ale comes across a little thin and under-hopped, but the effect is a balanced
beer more along the lines of a well made ordinary bitter. The star of the
squatters brews is the porter. This smooth rendition of a classic porter is
produced from two row barley, wheat, carapils, chocolate and black patent
malts. At the 1992 Great American Beer Fest people were passing by the booth
with mostly dubious looks. But after the award of a bronze medal Squatters
found they had lots of friends.
As you sit in the restaurant gentle whiffs of garlic float across from the
open cooking area and suggest the promise of good food. Selections include
all the usual pubfare with the addition of entrees such as richly spiced
chicken breast, pasta dishes and a fiery jambalaya in a thick rice sauce.
Most of the menu has items prepared with a western twist and even stir fry
is a surprising blend of cultures. The menu also includes specials such as
grilled Mahi-Mahi; however, beware of the chicken wings, these are not for
the faint of heart. Although delicious, these can be real lip chappers. Do
your beer tasting before diving into the wings.
Should your travels take you to the Great Salt Lake take heart. Despite some
people's misconceptions, the skiing is among the world's best, the people are
friendly, and the beer is fresh and tasty. Enjoy it, but try to keep it a
© Gregg Smith