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Local brewpubs come full circle – what’s next for these Utah icons

Salt Lake Brewing Co in dowtnown Salt Lake City

When I first landed in Utah, my wife to be immediately whisked me to the downtown location of Squatters brewpub. A savvy gambit. The quickest way to a British heart? Yep, you guessed it, beer, lots of it. Skip forward some two decades plus, and it’s been a whirlwind journey for the business.

As I wrote about earlier in the year, January saw several of Utah’s biggest brewery names gobbled up by a literal Monster. What wasn’t in the $330 million acquisition – the popular brewpub components of the business. Indeed the Utah Wasatch and Squatters brewpub operations where something of an anomaly in the overall CANarchy group of brewers – who as a larger organization were focused almost exclusively on beer. Monster Energy Corp’s January purchase of CANarchy left the local restaurants with no small amount of uncertainty.

Thankfully, I’m happy to report that it’s business as usual for Salt Lake Brewing Co – the overarching brand name that will continue to operate the various brewpub locations. This past week I sat down with new Salt Lake Brewing Co. CEO Monae Madson to learn more about the future of the iconic brewpub restaurants. The headline news is that SLBC sees two of the original Squatters’ founders – Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole – eagerly take back the reigns of the project they started way back in the late 80s.

Madson herself is a former CANarchy alumni – the brewery collective which was formed by equity group Fireman Capital – who themselves initially purchased the Squatters and Wasatch operations back in 2012. Madson was keen to underscore it would be business as usual for the popular locations – both in SLC, Park City and SLC International. All seven restaurants will continue to sport the same monikers and pour the creations you know and love – as part of a seemingly liberal license agreement with Monster.

When I stopped by the downtown Squatters for lunch with Madson the place was energetically awash with the familiar raucous clink of glasses and laughter. The same servers, the same clientele, and indeed menu – even a smiling brewmaster Jason Stock (Mr Hop Rising) could be seen working his magic through the glass – though it should be noted – that side of the operations is all Monster Energy Corp now.

Having spent most of her time flitting from state to state to assist other CANarchy brewers with process and procedure, Madson was demonstrably excited to have her feet back under a Salt Lake table – a city and dining scene she knows well (before CANarchy, Madson was part of the Gastronomy group).

The return to local ownership gives the business an unusual (at least as is the case for a long lived business, usually saddled with decades of technical debt) opportunity to reset, reboot and retool. Madson reeled off a variety of ways the business might incrementally evolve as the transition to new ownership settles. New brews? A platform for other local names in the brewery scene to operate from? More integration with the local foodie scene? Who knows, but everything is on the table at this time. Frankly, the frenetic rush of dotting and crossing contracts with an SEC inspected mega-corp, has eaten up most of the time and energy of all parties involved until now.

One notable change that guests will see, will be the lack of beer to go. The popular “bottle shop” setup you see at many a local brewery will now disappear from Squatters and Wasatch brewpubs. Under Utah liquor laws a business needs to own a Type 5 package agency license, which can only be furnished to businesses with onsite manufacturing. With that now handed off to Monster, cans and bottles to go will cease. But what the future brings, who knows; after all, as Madson wryly noted, a certain messrs Polychronis and Cole have more than a little prior experience when it comes to brewing up a storm…

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