Epic Brewing Company: Classic case of innovation which elevates Utah beer profile with exponentially growing levels of success2 Comments Published by les November 19th, 2010 in Business News, Communication, Community Dialogue, Current Events, Salt Lake City, SLC, Tourism.
As several archaeologists have suggested, there is plenty of evidence – going back thousands of years in its origin — of cultivated yeast, grindstones, brew vessels, and fire-cracked rock used to prepare the alcohol mash that suggest the brewing of beer was a major factor in the developing civilization of human beings.
And, in Utah, where a period spanning the late 1960s to the middle 1980s represented the nadir of beer production in the Beehive state, the most recent years have been particularly encouraging with at least 19 microbreweries operating.
However, in the case of one still very young brewery, the 2008 creation of a state Class 5 packaging license allowing breweries (and wineries and distilleries for their respective products) to directly sell beer produced on their premises has proven – to use the cliché – epic.
The story of two biologists, who worked first in California and then in Utah to operate a brine shrimp aquaculture business before turning their long-standing dream of running a craft brewery, has advanced the stage for Utah’s beer culture like that of no other entrepreneurs. (Cole and Erickson, from left)
For David Cole and Pete Erickson, founders and owners of Salt Lake City’s Epic Brewing Company (825 South State Street), the success in 2010 will, indeed, go down as historic. Within days of their formal May 17 opening, the owners were left nearly breathless by the public’s immediate response. The cold cases containing their nine original varieties of beer were virtually empty.
The feedback from the select bars and restaurants in the city that carried their beers was just as overwhelming. “The Hopulent is a fantastic IPA; it’s been a favorite at the bar,” Del Vance, beer advocate and owner of The Beerhive Pub, said at the time. “I bought 10 cases because I suspected they would sell tens of thousands of Epic beers within weeks.”
Six months later, the only Utah brewery to produce exclusively high-content beer, has more than tripled its production capacity and is in the midst of a rapid physical expansion. Weather permitting, within weeks of the New Year, the brewery will be operating in facilities more than double the size of their current 2,500-square-foot building.
Along with the seven original fermentation tanks, the brewery will augment its production capacity with three 40-barrel fermentation tanks and one 40-barrel bright beer tank to the cellar as well as an additional whirlpool/wort receiver to the brewhouse. The facilities also will have more space for barrel aging of the existing line plus 18 new beers being developed by head brewer Kevin Crompton. All told, Epic will have 360 barrels for fermentation and 60 barrels for bright-beer-packaging tanks with the flexible capabilities to add more tanks as demand dictates, especially as beers find their way into other states.
The expansion was immediately justified. Initial production targets for next year were 700 barrels but, now, Epic’s total production next year could match or exceed 6,000 barrels.
Likewise, industry awards came damn quick. At last spring’s San Diego International Beer Festival involving more than 150 brewers from around the world, Epic’s Brainless Belgian-Style Golden Ale took top honors in a closed judging competition by earning a gold medal in the Belgian Strong Ale category, besting an entry from Belgium no less. The same beer took the gold medal in this year’s North American Brewers Association competition.
Four other awards have been added to a trophy case that undoubtedly will be filled rapidly. Its Galloway Porter earned a silver medal at the 2010 Asia Beer Award Competition. Epic’s Copper Cone Pale Ale earned a bronze medal as did its Intermountain Wheat Beer at the San Diego competition mentioned earlier. The 825 State South earned a bronze medal at this fall’s 2010 Great American Beer Festival in Colorado.
From a recent interview with the Selective Echo, it is easy to see how Cole’s well-balanced appetite for beer, food, science, exercise, and adventure infuses the passionate and good-humored way in which he describes the dream he and his colleague set out to realize. For example, both men are bicycle enthusiasts who recently hosted a fundraiser for the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective in the form of a parking lot beer tasting party.
And, if there’s any pressure or tension behind the fact that the men have already achieved sales and production targets they originally estimated would occur in the third year of the long-term business plan they had so meticulously developed, Cole is definitely giving his best poker face.
No doubt, a tour of the State Street facilities gives a convincing glimpse of the energy and dedication that underscores Epic’s success. There are sure signs of meaningful job growth and employees motivated by the demand to execute the most rigorous standards of quality control. There are no idle hands here.
Crompton, whose portfolio documents extensive experience both in and out of Utah for brewing, makes it plainly clear how he and the Epic principals agree that volume takes the back seat when it comes to quality ingredients. Barely stopping to take stock of the unbelievably enthusiastic feedback, Cole, Erickson and Crompton, along with a focused staff, make it possible to experiment and push Epic’s boundaries for continuous improvement.
The evidence is everywhere from the monitoring of fermentation to the geographically-specific origin of the malt and grains, the multitude of yeast strains, and the sourcing of first-rate ingredients such as the hundreds of gallons of juice from a local organic apple orchard that went into their Sour Apple Saison-Style Farmstead Ale.
Another standout element is the use of a novel water filtration system for their lager production, believed to be the only one of its kinds in Western breweries. As Cole explains, clean water is so essential to the quality of a lager that it’s important to replicate the nature of pristine Alpine waters which enhance a lager’s unique profile. The water is purified through carbon filters and is deionized through a reverse osmosis process. Meanwhile, for its stout beers, Epic uses a combination of purified water and the natural mineral-laden water for which Utah is particularly known.
Epic has capitalized wisely upon the realities and gaps in the history of Utah’s brewing industry. With the new class license that became available recently, it is the first state brewery since the Prohibition Era to produce beer that is exclusively greater than 4.0 percent alcohol (by volume).
And, wise to the challenge of making it easily comprehensible to local beer drinkers (novice, daring, and picky connoisseurs alike), Epic’s product line is built on three tiers: Classic, Elevated, and Exponential.
The Classic line represents brews that will be consistent members of the Epic family. This includes Cross Fever Amber Ale, which is Epic’s lightest in terms of alcohol content at 4.8 percent. Others include the award-winning Galloway Porter and Intermountain Wheat Beer. A recent and rapidly emerging favorite is the Spiral Jetty India Pale Ale, which has an aggressive profile using five different hops and its alcohol content comes in at 6.6 percent, the strongest among the Classic line offerings. This beer pairs well with so many foods and cheeses, including, curiously enough, eggplant parmesan (as I pleasantly discovered).
The Elevated line pushes the envelope of conventional beer styling by bending significantly the rules of boutique brewing. The results of Crompton’s work are striking as three of the four current offerings in this line have taken awards, including the Brainless Belgian-Style Golden Ale, 825 State Stout, and Copper Cone Pale Ale. The fourth is a veritable orgy of hops – Hopulent IPA – which, in its first release, came in at well above 9.0 percent alcohol content and 10 pounds of dry hop in a 10-barrel tank. The current release of this particular beer is a healthy 8.2 percent alcohol content.
Finally, the Exponential series is, well, imagine two scientists and a fearless head brewer taking the notion of experimentation to boundary-busting realms. Here, the availability varies from batch to batch. This would include the Sour Apple Saison-Style Farmhouse Ale mentioned previously with its complex sweet and tart notes interspersed with spice tones.
Others have included an ale made with organic brown rice and a wet hop harvest ale, made with freshly picked Columbus and Cascade hops from Salt Lake’s High Desert Organic Hop Farm. One of the heaviest hitters in terms of alcohol content (10.5 percent) is the Brainless on Peaches brew, a variation of the award-winning Belgian with added organic peach puree which is then aged in French Chardonnay casks from the Sawtooth Winery.
All Epic beers are sold in 22-ounce bottles with the Classic line running between $3 and $4 each, the Elevated offerings between $4 and $5, and the Exponential beers running between $4 and $13. Gift cards also are available for the holiday. For more information, see here.
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