August 28, 2018

Getting to know you: Moab Brewery

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I visited with Jeff Van Horn, the head brewer at Moab Brewery last week. He invited me into the brewery and we had some time to chat about unique challenges facing Moab Brewery, favorite styles and the future of the craft beer industry as Jeff sees it.

For starters, it’s not always easy to source materials to a rural locale such as Moab for year-round brewing and production. “Moab is a unique place to brew. Just the logistics of it, and trying to do a production facility in a place that’s kind of an inland island. It has its own special challenges that way. Logistically, it’s not great — you send up full kegs; you need them back. Finding your margins is a challenge. But it’s been good. We’ll do close to 14,000 barrels this year.”

Jeff has found that because the world visits Moab, it’s a great opportunity to showcase what he’s most proud of, his distinct Moab brews. Not only do people come into the restaurant to eat a meal, but they try different beers that they look for when they go home. “It creates a unique thing to get people to kind of adopt you as their thing and look for you on the shelves when they’re not here. A lot of that speaks to consistency in what you do. They’re gonna say ‘I know this beer before I buy it.’”

Timing is everything at Moab Brewery. With the heavy influx of near-year-round visitors, as well as stocking many grocery store shelves and ski resorts, the brewery runs all year. “The brewery side doesn’t change in season. Our focus moves around because in the winter, we have all the resorts. We’ll end up with 200 new accounts in draft. Cans fall away, and the town becomes slow. Then it picks back up. We really don’t slow down anymore. It goes to the end of November and by February we start back up.”

A new feature of the brewery is the Moab Distillery, located right on site. “The distillery is new as of November. We’re only selling vodka and gin here now. We’re working on an aged gin product, barrelling it and going from there. I’m trying to line up an agave deal right now. The still isn’t huge — it’s an attempt to get into a new market and see that diversity.” Attempting to break into a new market isn’t always easy. “The taxes on the distillery side are really time-consuming. Coming up with better strategies to knock down how many hours you’re at a desk, and being effective when you are. On the distillery side you’re accounting for the alcohol itself. On the brewery side, you’re dealing with volume. The chasing of numbers on that side — I’m glad it’s small and growing, but as it grows, there’s more spreadsheets and number crunching.”

It’s hard for Jeff to pick just one favorite brew of the 18 that they make on site here in Moab. If he had to pick he’d say “Johnny’s. It’s kind of the way it is. I like IPAs a lot. The preferred thing for me is Johnny’s and Dead Horse. They’re great beers. Even though it’s been since 2002 when I started, Johnny’s is my recipe. Dead Horse is original, and I wouldn’t change it. They were great beers always from day one, no reason to mess with it. Something unique we tried is  we just did a grapefruit pale ale for an account, and we are selling it here for fun. I don’t like chasing trend beers too much because I don’t like chasing other peoples rainbows. I like beer styles, so when you chase a beer style down and not interpret too much, I like that. We just bend the styles and do stuff new. I like some of it, and some of it, it’s like I’m just mimicking someone else's Idea. Out of the gate I wasn’t really stoked about it, but as I dove into it, I found out where the fun was.”

Working on the grapefruit pale ale style “was more my interpretation in the sense that a lot of people were doing juice or other ways to get there. I do everything on the peel or hop side, no juice but still using grapefruit peel. I try to get as much as I can out of the hopping and then back it up on the malt side. Different strategy I guess.”

Jeff isn’t about to slow down any time soon. He’s facilitating growth, fostering curiosity of different beer styles and staying connected to the Moab community. “I see the industry changing constantly. I don’t see an end to creativity. It’s ours to bolster.“

Find Moab Brewery on Instagram @moabbrewery and visit them at 686 S Main St, Moab, Utah.