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Battle brewing over Becker beer references at Ogden River Brewing

By Tim Vandenack - | Jan 11, 2022

Photo supplied, Becker family

Memorabilia from the Becker Brewing and Malting Co., which operated out of Ogden from 1890 to 1964.

OGDEN — A battle of beer-makers, old and new, is brewing in Ogden.

In launching Ogden River Brewing in 2020, one of brewmaster Pat Winslow’s many aims was to pay homage to a giant in local brewing, the Becker Brewing and Malting Co., which manufactured beer in Ogden from 1890 to 1964. He’s dubbed one of the many Ogden River Brewing beers Becker’s Best American Pilsner, among other nods to the predecessor beer-maker.

His intent was “to honor the pioneers that brought beer to Utah,” Winslow said. Ogden River Brewing is located at 358 Park Blvd. in the Riverbend area, a growing urban pocket off the west side of Washington Boulevard, just south of the Ogden River.

Referencing the omnipresence in Utah of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which puts a prohibition on alcohol consumption, he suspects it couldn’t have been easy for John S. Becker, who founded Becker Brewing with his two sons, Gustav and Albert Becker. “It had to be quite a feat to do that. … Operating a brewery in the state of Utah is a challenge, like jumping in the ring with Muhammad Ali,” he said.

But the descendants of John Becker, an immigrant to the United States from Germany, say Winslow or his reps never reached out to them about his plans to use the Becker name. They’re crying foul over what they see as improper appropriation of the Becker family name and want Ogden River Brewing to stop using it.

Photo supplied, Becker family

Old beer cans from the Becker Brewing and Malting Co., which operated out of Ogden from 1890 to 1964.

“It’s really frustrating to the Becker family because of our history in Ogden,” said Karen Becker Edson, the great-granddaughter of John Becker. “They’re just using our name to further themselves.”

She learned Ogden River Brewing was using the Becker name by chance, when she went to the brewpub to eat. Though Winslow is the brewmaster and crafted the recipes of the beer featured at Ogden River Brewing, the brewpub is part of Lotus Co., the Salt Lake City-based developer.

“All of a sudden we just happen to go in there one day and we find out. We just went in to have dinner,” Edson said.

She wishes the business well, actually liked the locale. She just doesn’t want the Becker name associated with the new brewpub. “We just want people to know the Becker family isn’t affiliated with them at all,” she said.

Aside from the Becker’s Best American Pilsner, the name is used on one of the food entrees, Becker’s Best Fish and Tots, featuring fish fried in batter made with the Becker’s Best beer. Moreover, there’s a picture hanging on one of the walls in the main dining area featuring Gustav Becker, one of Becker Brewing’s original founders and Edson’s great uncle.

Photo supplied, Ogden River Brewing

Pat Winslow, brewmaster at Ogden River Brewing, in an undated photo.

“We’re just wondering, why are they connecting our family name?” said Erin Ruzek, Karen Edson’s daughter. While she can appreciate the intent to honor the founders of Becker Brewing, use of the family name “without any affiliation to the Becker family can come across as offensive to at least some of the Becker descendants, many of whom still call Utah home.”

The Utah State University accounting of Becker Brewing notes that the firm was a big name in beer. “Of the more than 40 breweries to call Utah home since Latter-day Saint settlement in 1847, the Becker Brewing and Malting Co. of Ogden stands out as the longest continuously operating brewing company in the state and one of the longest in the West,” it reads.

But Karen Edson notes that her Becker forebears weren’t just about beer. Gustav Becker was a skilled marksman who was picked as an alternate for the 1920 U.S. Olympic trap team, according to an online exhibit focused on Becker Brewing prepared by USU. Albert Becker served a stint in the Utah House of Representatives.

“The family name is more than beer. It was a very prominent family,” said Edson, who now lives in Salt Lake City.

The Beckers sent a “cease and desist” letter to Ogden River Brewing, calling on the brewpub to stop using the Becker name, but they say they’ve not gotten a response. Winslow, for his part, said he has reached back out, expressed hope of resolving the issue, but not heard back from the Beckers.

Photo supplied, Becker family

A photo of Albert Becker, center, with Lou Gehrig, left, and Babe Ruth, right, around 1930. Becker was one of the founders of Becker Brewing and Malting Co. and the photo sits in the home of Karen Becker Edson, his granddaughter.

Meantime, James Soares, chief operating officer with Lotus Craft, the Lotus Co. arm that oversees its “hospitality” operations, said there was no trademark restriction on the “Becker’s Best” name. Lotus started the process “quite a while ago” to reserve use of the name.

The Becker family’s reservations notwithstanding, Winslow doesn’t suspect use of the Becker name is helping generate extra revenue for Ogden River Brewing. He’s created around 15 beers tapping his own expertise and know-how. None of the other brews in the lineup use the Becker name.

“This is Ogden River beer,” Winslow said.

Indeed, Winslow, who worked for the railroad for 42 years, started brewing beer on his own in the early 2000s. Brewing as his main gig had long been a dream, which he was able to pursue after a Kickstarter campaign launched in 2017 that raised more than $30,000 as well as the affiliation with Lotus.

In the blurb about his plans on his Kickstarter page from four-plus years ago, he mentions plans to feature Becker Brewing in the decor of his new locale. “I always wanted to honor Becker,” he said.

Photo supplied, Becker family

An empty beer bottle from the Becker Brewing and Malting Co., which operated out of Ogden from 1890 to 1964.

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