Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Co. gets a new CEO with decades of industry experience and a name you will remember

(Courtesy photo) John Lennon, who has decades of experience in the beverage industry, is the new CEO of Uinta Brewing Co.

Imagine your favorite beverage — water, coffee, energy drinks, beer, wine or even spirits.

John Lennon has been a top leader in companies for every one of those drink categories.

Those jobs have taken Lennon all over the country and the globe and recently have brought him to Utah, where he will serve as the new chief executive officer of Uinta Brewing Co.

Lennon, who has been on Uinta’s board of directors since 2015, replaces Steve Mills, who left in February to take a position with Maine Brewing Company. Lennon has been acting as interim CEO and will begin his permanent post May 1.

Uinta is smaller than many of the previous companies where Lennon has served as CEO — including C. Mondavi & Family, Pabst Brewing Co., Seattle’s Pyramid Breweries and Beck’s North America.

Still, the “60-ish” industry veteran said he is “thrilled” at the opportunity. “Smaller companies bring much more of a management challenge,” he said. “You have to figure out how to operate with limited resources.”

That’s where Lennon, an expert in marketing and sales, said he believes he can do the most for the 25-year-old Utah beer producer.

“I have a deep understanding of beer marketing and distribution,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “That’s what I bring to the party.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Uinta Brewing Company at 1722 S. Fremont Drive, Salt Lake City.

Top 50 • Lennon’s appointment comes shortly after the list of the Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies for 2017 was released by the national Brewers Association. Uinta is 37th on the list, having produced 93,000 barrels of beer. The Utah brewery moved up two spots from 2016 and 10 spots from its first showing in 2012.

Part of the growth can be attributed to an infusion of money that came In 2014, when founder Will Hammill sold a portion of the company to The Riverside Company, an investment firm. Today, Uinta has 91 employees and is distributed in 45 states. The Utah market makes up 38 percent of its sales.

Coming in ninth on the Top 50 list is CANarchy, the national collective that owns Salt Lake City’s Squatters and Wasatch breweries. The company’s beer portfolio, partially funded by Fireman Capital Partners, also includes Oskar Blues Brewery, Perrin Brewing Company and Cigar City Brewing.

While the number of craft brewers in Utah is increasing, beer drinking in general has stalled across the U.S., Lennon said.

“Beer consumption is not increasing and even the growth of craft beer has slowed to single digits,” he said. “It’s a much more competitive environment.”

In the future, Lennon said Uinta “will be a little bit more focused on its core products,” including Cutthroat Pale Ale, 801 Pilsner and Hop Notch IPA. However, it did just launch a Mango Lime Pilsner, a seasonal twist on its Lime Pilsner.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Empty cans of Uinta Brewing's Lime Pilsner are waiting to be filled in this archive photo from 2017.

On 3.2 beer • One can’t talk about beer in Utah without mentioning the state law that requires grocery and convenience stores to sell only beer that is 3.2 percent alcohol by weight — or 4 percent alcohol by volume.

Anything with a higher alcohol content must be sold at state liquor stores.

“Given those contraints, we’ve brewed some incredible beer for the Utah market,” said Lennon. A pale ale fan, Lennon believes Uinta’s Cuthroat is “an incredible-tasting pale ale at 4 percent ABV.”

“But I might be biased,” he added

Large national brewing companies have said beer selection likely will decrease later this year, when Utah and Minnesota become the only two states to require 3.2 beer in grocery and convenience stores.

Coming most recently from Florida, Lennon said it’s a topic he needs to investigate.

That name • Lennon belts out a hearty laugh when asked about his name, which he shares with a member of The Beatles.

While his family liked the British band, Lennon said his parents were not super fans who wanted their offspring to have the name.

“I was born before [the Beatles] came to America,” he said.

However, in a twist of fate, Lennon’s father was a broadcast engineer for “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964, “when they performed on the Sunday night show.”

As an adult, Lennon had a chance meeting with Sir Paul McCartney in a men’s clothing store. “I was trying on trousers and he was trying on Tom Ford suits,” he said.

Lennon introduced himself, “but he didn’t believe me.” It was the sales clerk who finally convinced the singer.

“What I do love about having this name,” Lennon said, “people don’t forget it.”

He hopes to do something as memorable with Uinta beer.