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Utah beer co-op mourns loss of mini-kegs but carries on

Published August 16, 2011 8:04 am

Containers of 5 liters or more will soon be history, but co-op is ramping up beer production.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Zion curtains hiding bartenders from public view are back, drink specials have been outlawed and, now, mini-kegs of beer have been banned.

The 5-liter, keg shaped Chubby, introduced to Utah in February, already has been pulled from most state-operated liquor stores, and no longer will be sold anywhere in Utah starting Oct. 1. Legislators took aim at the little fella by specifically outlawing any container of 5 liters or more.

Despite lawmakers' efforts at reining in drinking habits because of fears of overconsumption, Utahns seem to like their beer.

Squatters and Wasatch Brewery, which produced the Chubby, is ramping up production to meet increased demand. The beer cooperative has added two, 200-barrel fermentation tanks to its production line. With a 6,200-gallon capacity, equivalent to 66,133 12-ounce bottles, these tanks will be dedicated to the production of the cooperative's most popular beers: Squatters Hop Rising and The Devastator by Wasatch.

"We grew our sales about 20 percent last year, and we are ahead of that pace this year," said Greg Schirf, Utah Brewers Cooperative managing partner. "These new tanks are the biggest fermentors we have ever purchased, and they will make a big difference in our production capacity."

Last year, sales topped $7 million.

Still, the loss of the Chubby is "a heartbreaker," said Schirf, who appeared before lawmakers earlier this year to make a case for the mini-keg. His arguments fell flat because the Chubby will soon join beer kegs, banned in 1990, as an illegal product — except for authorized beer retailers, such as taverns.

The Chubby holds the equivalent of 14, 12-ounce bottles, and unlike brown glass can be widely recycled. And although it is twice the size of a legal glass growler container, the Chubby holds less alcohol than a 24-pack sold at grocery stores.

John Freeman, deputy director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the state did not reorder the Chubby line so that stores would not have excess inventory by Oct. 1. Although a few stores may have some in stock, most outlets no longer offer the product.

The mini-kegs may still be purchased at Squatters & Wasatch Brewery & Beer Store, at 1763 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City, and Wasatch Brew Pub, 250 Main St., Park City. After Oct. 1, any remaining inventory will be shipped out of state.

"We were excited about the Chubby," said Schirf. "But we've moved on. And certainly with the bent of the Legislature, it could have been much worse."

Lawmakers have retrenched on liquor laws since 2009, when Gov. Jon Huntsman successfully pushed to do away with the state's one-of-a-kind private club memberships, which patrons had to buy for each establishment before they could buy a drink. The Legislature — a vast majority of whose members belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which eschews alcohol — pushed back.

Lawmakers reinstated the so-called Zion curtains in restaurants opened after January 2010. Diners in newer eateries may not see into partitions built to hide from public view bartenders and open liquor bottles. Lawmakers also refused to free up more bar licenses, which are in such short supply that none is likely to become available for the next two years.

But business has been good for Utah Brewers Cooperative.

The addition of the two new fermentation vessels — installed last year during a $3 million expansion — brings the tank count to 24. The added capacity will cause no stress to the state-of-the-art packaging line and its bottling capacity of 132,000 bottles per worker shift (or 410 bottles per minute).

This fall, the cooperative plans to add a 230-barrel tank, which will support an increase of its brew schedule of three to five brews per day, six days a week.

dawn@sltrib.comTwitter@DawnHouseTrib —

Chubby beer mini-kegs outlawed on Oct. 1.

• Utah lawmakers have made it illegal to sell the 5-liter, keg-shaped Chubby. The tin holds the equivalent of 14, 12-ounce bottles.

• The mini-kegs are no longer stocked in most state liquor stores, but may be purchased at Squatters & Wasatch Brewery & Beer Store, 1763 S. 300 West, in Salt Lake City, and Wasatch Brew Pub, 250 Main St., Park City.

• Mini-kegs may be stored for up to 90 days unrefrigerated, but once opened should be refrigerated and used within three or four days.