By Gregory Daurer | Mar 16, 2021
Salt Lake City, Utah
When Dwyer and his partners opened Fisher Brewing Company in 2017, they had one piece of the business puzzle already solved, much to their great relief. "We didn't have to come up with branding," says Dwyer.
That's because their brewery was able to use label designs and logos from the original A. Fisher Brewing Company. Fisher was a family-owned business in Salt Lake City from 1884 until 1957, when the existing brewery was acquired and then operated by a new owner, Lucky Lager, for another decade.
Luckily, the trademarks were maintained by a member of the Fisher family -- a lineage to which co-owner Tom Fisher Riemondy belongs. Riemondy is the great-great-grandson of the brewery's founder, Albert Fisher, who emigrated from Germany to a thirsty Salt Lake City in the 19th century. Albert Fisher's brewery did so well in its first decade that Fisher was able to see his own mansion built, a historic edifice now owned by the city. (The new brewery has sometimes held events there.)
Over the course of several years, Riemondy discussed opening a new Fisher brewery with friends Dwyer and Colby Frazier, who was already brewing professionally out in California. They were eventually joined by Steve Brown, who runs the front of the house and handles merchandising. "We operate as a four-pack," quips Dwyer. After five years of planning, the quartet made the leap in 2017, having secured a former auto body shop in the Granary District as the home for their new brewery. While Frazier spends much of his time brewing, Riemondy manages operations and Dwyer handles the accounting -- and they also serve customers, as well.
When they opened, the new owners encountered old-timers who remembered the former Fisher brand. Someone bestowed an antique neon sign on the newly-minted business. A vintage crate is now used to hold brewery merchandise. There were Fisher bottles openers. And yellowed newspaper ads to pore over. And old bottles and cans. The new brewery has resurrected one of Fisher's historic slogans, which it now emblazons on cans: "Sparkle Brewed to the Altitude."
While people shared Fisher memorabilia or memories with them, nobody possessed recipes from the original brewery which could be resurrected. Still, Dwyer and his pals decided to make a pre-Prohibition-style lager their flagship beer, imagining that it matched the flavor of that bygone era when the previous Fisher brewery thrived. And they're crafting beers the likes of which Albert Fisher could never have imagined during his era -- whether it be a Double IPA or a beet saison. The new incarnation of Fisher brews "creative, hop-forward beers -- pale ales and hazy pale ales; classic British styles; Bavarian-style hefeweizen," says Dwyer. "Usually, it's north of 100 unique beers every year."
In 2019, Fisher Brewing produced 1,700 barrels out of its 10-barrel brewhouse, selling the suds solely at its own establishment. Dwyer estimates 90 percent of that was taproom sales, with 10 percent to-go purchases. However, in 2020, the pandemic forced the closure of its taproom. Now, around 70 percent of sales take place in the outdoor drinking area, and the rest is made by vending 25-ounce crowlers -- or 16-ounce cans, thanks to a mobile canning unit which travels down from Boise, Idaho.
The draft beer maxes out at 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), a legal limit in Utah that's been increased from the previous 4.0 percent since December. But to-go cans, holding higher-proof ales, are also available -- such as an annual Thanksgiving brown ale packing around 8 percent ABV or a Belgian strong ale at 9 percent.
Dwyer stresses community involvement, noting that Fisher's presently-closed taproom has previously served as a space for yoga sessions, movie nights, and fundraisers for environmental causes. Fisher Brewing has also used ingredients in its beers from a local community garden, the Salt Lake Roasting Co. (for a coffee stout), and The Chocolate Conspiracy (utilizing their cacao nibs; The Chocolate Conspiracy has also made bars incorporating the brewery's beer).
One recent fundraiser benefited a hard-hit, beloved, local antiquarian shop, Ken Sanders Rare Books. For decades, Sanders has also been the publisher of Edward Abbey's eco-countercultural novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, featuring illustrations by underground cartoonist R. Crumb. Fisher released six Monkey Wrench Gang-themed beers, with Crumb's artwork decorating the cans. Dwyer called the releases "super-popular," and says, "It was a really cool collaboration -- to give new life to that artwork."
While the previous Fisher brewery existed for several decades in business, the newer one is reaching its own milestones. It just marked its fourth anniversary in February 2021. Dwyer says regulars stopped by to have a beer and pick up one of the celebratory canned releases. "We've got a really great community behind us," he notes, "and we see that and recognize that -- and it's great to mark that with an anniversary."
Favorite beers: A tough list to compile in toto, given four different owners, says Dwyer. Brewer Colby Frazier cut his teeth at the Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta, California, under brewer Eric Rose, and has interacted with the fine folks at Russian River Brewing Company and Lost Abbey. Dwyer and Riemondy have "good friends" running Girdwood Brewing in Alaska. Brown has been "a big fan of Fremont" in Seattle, among other craft breweries located there. Dwyer adds, "I've been a big fan of TRVE Brewing, out in Denver." And Dwyer also gives a shout-out to the "local brewing community," who assist each other, from time to time, with ingredients or packaging equipment. "Everybody's been great about helping out," says Dwyer.
Challenges: "Taking our bread-and-butter taproom and totally getting rid of it" -- at least, for now -- due to the pandemic, says Dwyer. It's forced the brewery to adapt, doing more canning for customers of to-go beers.
Opportunities: "To continue to be a community gathering point," says Dwyer. "We're looking forward to getting our bar back. And to build on these new recipes we've come up with for these high-strength beers and special releases, and keep those going as more of a fixture for the business, going forward."
Needs: "People to keep coming in," says Dwyer. "We are a customer-driven, in-person business."