Battle over beer samples brewing in South Salt Lake

Tasting • City Council has to decide whether to allow customers to sample the product.

South Salt Lake • The tasting room at the Shades of Pale Brewing Co. is ready for business: The taps are in and there's a new handcrafted bar made of reclaimed wood where customers can sit.

The only thing brewery owner Trent Fargher said is keeping him from letting customers sample his beer is the city of South Salt Lake.

The City Council has been revamping the community's alcohol code, and the last piece of the puzzle is deciding whether to allow microbreweries to have tasting rooms, and if so, whether they should be limited to serving low-alcohol beer.

The council will discuss the issue at its Wednesday meeting, but is not expected to make a final decision until June 17, said Deputy City Attorney Paul Roberts.

Fargher said he has been working with city officials for months to find a solution. He said allowing customers to sample a product before buying is an important marketing tool for his business — in a mostly industrial area at 154 W. Utopia — and in the craft beer industry as a whole.

"I'm not trying to do anything different than anyone else in the country," he said. But thanks to Utah's quirky liquor laws, "I'm caught in this Catch-22."

For manufacturers of beer, wine and spirits to sell tastings or samples to customers, they must also pay for a restaurant, tavern or club license from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The brewery, which produced almost 1,000 barrels in 2014, does not have a kitchen, said Fargher, and it could not meet the 70 percent food requirement that comes with a restaurant liquor license. That leaves the tavern or club/bar license option. Either way, Shades of Pale needs local approval before being granted a license from the state DABC.

Fargher and his wife, Alexandra, started Shades of Pale in 2010, initially producing low-alcohol beers sold in local grocery and convenience stores. Last year, they relocated from Park City to a larger facility in South Salt Lake so they could, among other things, start producing high-alcohol beer. They also hoped to create a beer store and tap room.

But allowing another club/bar in the city is a dilemma for the South Salt Lake Council, said Roberts.

About eight years ago, the city set a cap on the number of bars allowed within the city limits — one for every 3,000 residents. At the time the code was changed, the city had 22 bars. Today that number has dropped to 12.

"But we are still over the cap of eight," said Roberts, noting that South Salt Lake's population hovers around 24,000.

The city council could get around the cap by creating a separate category for microbreweries. Some council members, however, have suggested that only beer that is 4 percent alcohol by volume — sometimes called 3.2 — be served at beer production facilities. That would mean Shades of Pale would be prevented from offering samples of its higher-alcohol beers.

Fargher said even if he did get a coveted bar license from the DABC, the tasting room wouldn't operate like a traditional club and would not stay open late. The DABC currently is short on club licenses, and there is usually a six- to 12-month wait to get one.

"I envision it as more of a public gathering space, not necessarily a seedy bar," he said, noting that his business along with others has the potential to be a destination spot for South Salt Lake.

The neighborhood is in a redevelopment area that is easily accessed by TRAX and Salt Lake City's S Line. Shades of Pale Brewery is within walking distance of Sugar House Distillery, Kiler Grove Winery, Pat's Barbecue and Vertical Diner. The local business owners already have talked about marketing the "South of Downtown" area — or SODO — for dinner and cocktail events.

"There's no place like this in South Salt Lake," Fargher said, hoping for a positive outcome to the situation. "You hate to see money leave the city."

The liquor sampling issue affects more than just Shades of Pale.

Uinta Brewing Co. also is seeking a club license from the DABC so it can serve its higher-alcohol beers to customers at its Brewhouse Pub, a tavern adjacent to its production facility at 1722 S. Fremont Drive (2375 West) in Salt Lake City.

The tavern license worked well when Uinta only produced 4 percent ABV beers, controller Beckie Britter told member of the state liquor commission recently. But now with its growing high-point line of beers, the license is limiting. "We are a destination brewery with people coming from all over to sample our products," she said. "It would be ideal to serve all the beers we produce."

While sampling at wineries, breweries and distilleries may be common in other states, it is a relatively new issue for Utah.

Several years ago, the laws were changed to allow customers to sample products made at Utah wineries and breweries, but not distilleries. (At the time, Utah didn't have any distilleries.)

Since then, Utah's liquor industry has grown exponentially, and sampling and other manufacturing issues have not been addressed, said Fargher. "There are no laws for us."