This Prior Experience Helped Propel the Launch of Snake River for Upshers in 1994

This is a continuing series highlighting the oldest craft brewery in each state with members of the organization that helped build the brand. Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights each Monday to help learn how these veterans of the industry have grown.

Luke Bauer, Sales & Marketing Director / Joni Upsher, co-founder — Snake River Brewing, Jackson, Wyoming

Date the brewery opened: March 25, 1994
What beers were tapped on opening day? Stout was offered when we opened. I think there was such a need to open, we didn’t have a lot of styles to start.

BREWER: Why did the brewery open in the first place? What was your biggest “Year 1” struggle?
UPSHER: We started it for several reasons. Albert had been in Race Camp for about eight years. He would drive out to Jackson and met a lot of great people while skiing for the week each year. He owned an Anheuser Busch distributorship in Oregon. He was about to sell it and about the same time Clarene Law had worked hard to pass the Brewpub law which allowed us to start a brewpub like so many in Portland, Oregon. We were used to seeing beer being brewed and served across the bar. It  was common in Portland.
BAUER: As a former Anheuser Busch distributor in McMinville, Oregon, Albert knew the beer business. He took notice of the expanding microbrewery scene in Oregon and decided to open a brewery in his favorite ski town, Jackson, Wyoming. Snake River Brewing started as a family-owned business, and in 2008 a local family took over the ownership of the brewpub.
UPSHER: We struggle to get the building completed in a timing manner. We went over about seven months, which put us in a bit of financial worry and the need to get the doors open!

BREWER: Go ahead, pat yourself on the back; what was one of the key “good ideas” that were had early on which help drive growth or sustainability to the brewery?
UPSHER: One of the best long term decisions we made was “NO SMOKING.” First restaurant in Jackson at the time to do that. We also made the decision to not sell any other beer but ours.
BAUER: We decided to plan for quality, substance, and longevity. We knew that Jackson Hole’s citizens would judge us on the quality of our beers and food. Our mission statement became- “The world doesn’t need another beer, but a better beer!” And we’ve been successful in that goal, largely due to fantastic staff longevity and continuity, giving us a deep well of institutional knowledge.

BREWER: OK, now admit a defeat; what was a decision or a circumstance that hurt the brewery? How did you solve that issue or find your way through it?
UPSHER: Our biggest problem came over parking. At the time you could pay fee in lieu for parking. So because parking was counted on the number of chairs our lot wasn’t big enough and we leased a lot across the street to satisfy the parking requirement. As time went on the town changed its regulations and no longer allowed us this solution. After attorney fees and court battles, we ended up in the Supreme court in Wyoming. Fortunately we won. But many dollars were lost and a lot of sleepless nights. Eventually we bought the NAPA lot next door and it helped to solve some of the parking.

BREWER: What excites you in your brand (be it liquid, equipment, strategies or something else) this year and how did you decide to pursue this avenue?
BAUER: In celebration of our 30th Anniversary, we’re releasing a fun new IPA called Dirty 30! But one of the things that we’ve always done very well, regardless of industry trends, is brew really wonderful old-world-style Lagers. We have a rotating line of various lighter Lagers, a year-round Vienna-style Amber Lager named after a popular lake in Grand Teton National Park, Jenny Lake Lager. And we continue to riff on other old world lager styles each year, like our multiple GABF award-winning Dark Horse dark Czech-style lager.
UPSHER: This year I have no answer. But we were excited when organic beer became the rage and that we were able to develop our first organic beer with Chris’ help.

BREWER: Being a veteran company in the craft beer industry, what “words of wisdom” do you like to share when a new brewery owner approaches?
BAUER: First and foremost, of course, make really good beer.  
UPSHER: The key as a veteran craft brewing company was all about who we hired. Our people were family and they cared as much as we did about SRB. “Good Beer and Good People” were our recipe for success.

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