Getting to know: Proper Brewing Co.
Proper Brewing Co. has ethical credentials and values its role in the local community. It places an emphasis on local produce not only for the exceptional quality and taste, but also as part of its social responsibility in supporting the regional economy. Placing cash directly into the pockets of the area’s farmers and growers is important. And rightly so. The net result mirrors Proper Brewing Co.’s pride in being a Utah business, despite the intricacies of State Law and the hoops through which it must jump to be something of a leader in its field.
More than any other brewer in the state, it is perhaps Proper Brewing Co. that considers the tradition and history of beer and brewing in Utah to be something that should be celebrated. And it shouts out that fact loudly.
Proper Brewing Co. has a long association with Salt Lake City, most notably through opening its first location in 2013, in the Avenues Historic District that stands proudly overlooking the city from the north-east foothills. The Avenues was Salt Lake City’s first neighbourhood and even predates the State of Utah itself. Since it is still a residential area, the Avenues location has proved something of a challenge for Proper Brewing Co., despite its popularity.
Until fairly recently, the Avenues Proper location – a brewery, although legally a restaurant – was only licenced to be a bar during the summer months, and thirsty drinkers making the climb to visit the brewery were obliged to purchase something to eat in order to be eligible for imbibing a beer; a situation that is not uncommon across the state.
The brewers had grand plans that could not be accommodated by Avenues Proper, so the Proper Brewing Co. opened its new “Proper Compound” in Salt Lake City’s Central Ninth District in early 2016.
Bland, homogeneous Big Beer is an anathema to Proper Brewing Co., much as it is to any brewery worth its salt. By taking amazing local ingredients and creating some, frankly, astonishing beers, Proper Brewing Co. sets itself apart, places its flag firmly in the ground, and yells its message to anybody interested in experiencing the best of the region. Malt is, of course, the foundation of a great beer, and by utilising Mountain Malt from nearby eastern Idaho, a few hours’ drive away, Proper Brewing Co. Brewing is ensuring the base ingredient of its beers does not create an unnecessary carbon footprint on its way to the drinker’s glass.
Because of the importance placed on honeybees by the first LDS Church settlers who named the area Deseret – the ancient name for the honeybee – Utah is called the Beehive State and its motto is “industry”. Honey was also one of the earliest known examples of a natural ingredient fermented into alcohol, so it is fitting that Proper Brewing Co., therefore, utilises local honey in its Stumblebee Vienna Lager. Cherries are special to the area, too, and Proper Brewing Co. has plans to use cherries sourced from the nearby Woodyatt Cherry Farm to honour the humble fruit in a true and proper manner by producing a genuine Utahan fruit lambic.
Besides lambics, another popular emerging beer style is gose, several of which are produced by Proper Brewing Co. with aplomb. With its focus on classic and contemporary Utah beer styles, Proper Brewing Co. has taken this classic beer style and added a unique local twist in the form of highly mineralised salt mined from an ancient seabed to create the Lake Effect gose range. Again, it is a nearby producer, Redmond Real Salt, that provides this core ingredient.
Pink Floyd is used as the symbol of Proper Brewing Co.’s Lake Effect gose range, but in this case it is Pink Floyd the Chilean flamingo who adorns the beers rather than London’s progressive proponents of psychedelia. Pink Floyd escaped from Salt Lake City’s Tracy Aviary in the late ‘80s due to an oversight that meant its wings weren’t clipped to curb its ability to fly. The flamingo became something of a local celebratory, living a solitary life between summers in Idaho and winters on the Great Salt Lake, until its disappearance in 2005.
Any brewery purporting to be motivated by classics should be embracing the joys of cask conditioning and the opportunity it offers to embrace the art of experimentation. Unsurprisingly, Proper Brewing Co. is onboard with this approach and taps a special and unique cask each Thursday at 5pm.
Unlike other states that maintain the 3-step approach to getting beer from brewer to consumer – brewery or importer; distributor; retailer – certain licences in Utah allow a brewery to sell beers direct to its loyal fans, supporters, and drinkers. A bottle shop exists, therefore, within the Proper Compound, alongside a burger-joint, merchandising outlet and well-stocked taproom. The coolers in the bottle shop are amply stocked with row after row of Proper Brewing Co.’s beers in 22oz bombers.
The taproom, which once roared with the sound of high performance engines in its former life as a motorcycle dealership, is always abuzz; ablaze with chatter, laughter and the clink, crash, smash of skee-ball, shuffle-board and the like. The wizards crowd the pinball machine, and the room echoes with the sound of flippers striking silver-ball – and the resultant buzzes and bells.
Beneath the floor of the taproom lies the pristine tiled floor of the aforementioned motorcycle dealership, entombed by a more suitable floor covering that aligns with an environment of beer-fuelled jollities The building in which the brewery, taproom and bottle shop are situated was also once an engineering business, as evidenced by the 60-year old wall-scribblings and remnants of mechanical devices that remain in the brewery, giving the place its unique character. The sounds, smells and commotion of a bygone industrial past linger palpably in the air like ghosts, yet the present-day stainless-steel descendants of yesteryear’s machines stand proud of their lineage, producing the beery-delights that enthral Salt Lake City’s drinkers.
Some breweries prefer to remain sensible and label their brewing equipment numerically – fermentor 1, fermentor 2, brite tank 1, and suchlike. Proper Brewing Co., on the other hand, likes to have fun. Each of its fermentors, brite tanks and other brewing equipment is given a name, a cultural reference point. The names of the two most well-known members of Butch Cassidy’s notorious outlaw gang, the Wild Bunch, for example, adorn the kettle and mash tun: Butch himself, who was born in the Utah Territory 30-years before Utah was admitted to the US as the 45th state in 1896, and his most famous sidekick, the Sundance Kid. Butch and Sundance were, of course, pseudonyms for Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh accordingly, but Robert and Harry are not quite so glamourous. Elsewhere we see Wayne and Garth the fermentors – schwing! – and other names lost to a European writer unattuned to the numerous intricacies of American culture.
The brite tanks stand like security guards, watching over the hubbub in the taproom through the glass of their chilled office; their names – characters from Reservoir Dogs – simply adds to the menacing stance. Cute, cuddly, soft names, however, does not seem appropriate and proper for Proper Brewing Co., which itself takes a firm stance and should be taken seriously.
“Never Prim, Always Proper” is not only a great pun, but it also describes Proper Brewing Co. to a tee. The Proper name itself is a great excuse to create quips, catchphrases, and great copy: “the proper way to brew is the Proper way to do”, for example. The possibilities are endless, especially when Proper Brewing Co. has Marketing & Events Director Eleanor Lewis at its disposal, a gem of an enthusiastic beer-lover who will talk at great length about the beers and will intrigue visitors with delightful facts about the brewery, its beers, its history, and its future.
Eleanor, like many at Proper Brewing Co., is a Certified Cicerone – something of high-quality skill and knowledge indicator for the world of beer. She is also a proud and enthusiastic member of The Pink Boots Society, the female-only organisation for beer professionals. Proudly on tap is a delicious brew made by the local Chapter of The Pink Boots Society, evidence of Proper Brewing Co.’s support for this important movement.
Proper Brewing Co. has modest plans for the next few years, focusing on consolidation locally ahead of any national or global expansion. Which is a shame, since the beers deserve a wider fanbase. Let’s hope a longer-term strategy sees the beers available elsewhere, so they can be enjoyed by those who live outside of Utah and love great beer brewed Proper-ly. In the meantime, however, if you encounter a Proper Brewing Co. beer, don’t miss the opportunity to try it. Do the Proper thing!