Business

Boston investors pour $35 million into Utah craft beer company

Salt Lake City may sound like an unlikely place for a fast-growing craft beer company.

But Wasatch and Squatters Beers has enjoyed success in Utah, serving up award-winning brews with a sense of humor — one popular offering is called Polygamy Porter, with the marketing slogan, “Why have just one?”

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The beer and attitude have drawn the attention of investors at Fireman Capital Partners in Boston, which is pouring about $35 million into the beer maker in exchange for a majority stake.

“You’d think that’d be the last place you’d want to buy a beer company,’’ said Dan Fireman, managing partner at the investment firm. But the craft brewer and restaurant group has taken off, growing at 20 percent a year, Fireman said. “Our job is to help expand it.”

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Wasatch Brewpub, named for a nearby mountain range, became Utah’s first microbrewery when it opened in 1986 in Park City. Three years later, Squatters opened the first brew pub in Salt Lake City. It’s name comes from the British comedy duo Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.

Once rivals, the two merged in 2000 as the Utah Brewers Cooperative.

The companies’ three founders — Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole of Squatters and Greg Schirf of Wasatch — will remain on the board and involved with the operations, Fireman said, noting, “It’s critical.”

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Schirf said the Fireman investment will allow the company to expand and keep pace in the booming craft beer industry.

The beer names, which also include First Amendment Lager and Evolution Amber Ale, reflect the founders’ irreverent outlooks.

“We try to have fun,’’ Schirf said. “Being here in the land of Zion, we have to find a way to entertain ourselves.”

In addition to the brewing business — Wasatch and Squatters is sold in 11 states — the company has five restaurants. All together, it 300 has employees.

This is the seventh deal for Fireman Capital, which launched in 2009, and the first from the private equity fund it’s raising. Fireman hopes to raise $200 million to $300 million for the fund, according to two people with knowledge of the effort, who were not authorized to comment. So far, it’s raised about $75 million, they said.

Dan Fireman’s father, former Reebok International chief executive Paul Fireman, is chairman of the investment firm. Later this week, Paul Fireman will put some money down on another brand with Utah connections: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Fireman is scheduled to host a Romney fund-raiser at his Chestnut Hill home. The candidate is a former private equity executive at Boston’s Bain Capital.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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