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The joke among bartenders is that in Utah two wives are okay, but not two drinks. But good beer is to be found -- even in this challenging environment.

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Utah Brews

You Don't Have to Bring Your Own in the Land of Brigham Young

by Bobby Bush

Part One
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     Looking adversity straight in the eye, Utah brews. Probably the most alcohol-confused of all 50 states, this Mormon-governed enclave has gone out of its way to make sin difficult. Beer cannot exceed 3.2% alcohol by weight. Wine cannot be served across a bar but can be delivered to your table. Bars exist only as private clubs. Membership in such clubs requires a two-week waiting period, but temporary club memberships are effective immediately. Double-shots in a mixed drink are verboten. A drinker of any alcoholic beverage cannot have two drinks at once, even if one glass has only a swallow left. The joke among bartenders is that in Utah two wives are okay, but not two drinks. But good beer is to be found -- even in this challenging environment.

Red Rock Brewing Company

     Downtown Salt Lake City bustles with nightlife activities. Bars, nightclubs and ethnic restaurants thrive in the no-smoking/no-drinking/tithing religiousness of Mormon rule. This dichotomy of lifestyles can be viewed as an attraction of opposites, segregating residents to the extremes of righteous and licentious -- saints and sinners. Whatever's happening in this confused city and state, it seems to work.

     The street designations in Salt Lake City are just as confusing as the alcohol-law maze. Luckily, our first destination was within blocks of our downtown hotel. Founded in 1994, Red Rock Brewing Company was honored as the National Brewpub of the Year at the 2000 Great American Beer Festival. That's quite a feat for any brewpub and especially impressive for one operating under such regulatory oppression.

     As we waited for a table so the missus could enjoy a glass of wine, a nifty tiered rack of tiny glasses, 10 in all, was delivered to the bar. Starting with light, creamy Honey Wheat, this tasting session progressed through a sour and clove/banana-free Hefeweizen and on to a medium-bodied Amber Ale, which exhibited thin caramel flavor and moderate hoppiness from mid-mouth to finish. With 40% rye in the grain bill, Roggen Rock was malty-smooth throughout, presenting light bitterness at the finish. Deep amber in hue, McRock's Scottish was malty-thick, with flirtations of dark chocolate and coffee, while IPA Junior hit brutal bitter at first, chased by grapefruit sourness on final swallow. A frothy tan head topped the copper body of Alt Bier, which was tart with a surprising alcoholic punch. Black Bier, a chestnut-brown lager, caressed the tongue with caramel richness and a faint chocolate ending. Oatmeal Stout sported a long-lasting head above medium-bodied blackness. Thin chocolate malt and fast-finishing residual chocolate tastes seemed incomplete, though the flavor profile broadened with each sip.

     This was a busy Tuesday night for the converted creamery. The open kitchen throbbed with activity. The stainless steel wood-fired oven stayed loaded with pizzas, seafood and other entrees. Brewer Eric Dunlap's 10-barrel brewhouse was nestled against the back left wall. Five GABF medals and a number of other competitive awards adorned the wall above the barstools. Red Rock provides a friendly environment and plenty of good brews to make the total experience of food, beer and fun complete.

     Next day, back at our hotel bar (hotel bars are usually distinguished for their lack of good taste in beer, featuring the best of BudMillerCoors and maybe a Mexican or Dutch lager), we were shocked to discover a choice of three Utah beers! All were brewed by the Utah Brewers Cooperative, a joint venture between Squatters, a Salt Lake City brewpub, and Wasatch, a brewpub in mountainous Park City. Each member of the bottled threesome was unique in clarity and flavor. Clear gold until the sediment was shaken from the bottom of the bottle, Wasatch Hefe-Weizen Bier displayed a foamy white head and a citrusy, clovey flavor. Deep orange in color, Wasatch Superior Ale was similarly orange-caramel in taste, absent bitter notes. St. Provo Girl, previously known as Squatters Pilsner, was an exemplary version of the traditional Bavarian lager -- bright gold and smartly bitter from Magnum hops.

Squatters Pub Brewery

     Though my memory is somewhat hazy (the trip predates my note-taking), I first visited Salt Lake City around 1991. At that time, there were two brewpubs in town. One of them was Squatters Pub Brewery, established in 1989 in the old Boston Hotel, constructed circa 1900. Squatters brewmaster Jenny Yohe brews "Salt Lake's Original Local Beer." A Chicago native, Jenny attended the University of Utah in 1988. A mountain biker, she signed on as brewer's apprentice in 1991 and became head brewer at Squatters in 1995. She later graduated from the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. Her Vienna Lager took a GABF gold in 1997. Full Suspension Ale, Jenny's interpretation of a Northwestern-style pale ale, similarly won a gold in the World Beer Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

     Squatters had nine beers on draft and one bottled ale when we visited. Part of a noisy dinner party, we were seated, appropriately, in a back room. With two sampler trays for the table to share, the tasting began. Unfiltered and cloudy, the Hefeweizen was yeasty and wheaty, tart but not clove-fired. Just as I had experienced earlier in the day, though from a bottle, St. Provo Girl was a pleasantly perfect pilsner, clear gold and crisp with a not-so-subtle hop attack. Dark caramel in tone, seasonal Oktoberfest was also caramel in taste. Dry-finishing and bitter only in aftertaste, this lager was closer to a bock than an Oktoberfest, but no one complained.

     Thin for the style, Vienna Lager was nice yet just not big enough in maltiness or mouthfeel. Emigration Amber Ale presented fruity flavor, with hop notes from mid-taste onward. Dry-hopped Full Suspension Pale Ale had great balance, blending a floral hops taste and a bitter sensation within its medium body. The Cask-Conditioned Pale Ale, allegedly similar in recipe to Full Suspension, was warm, smooth and bursting with more hop flavor, including a pronounced soapy-hop-floral taste. A "traditional Irish stout," Millcreek Cream Stout was not creamy in mouthfeel. Beginning with dark chocolate malt flavor, sensations morphed to bitter and dry at mid-mouth, leaving behind a harsh aftertaste.

     Brewed by the Utah Brewers Cooperative, 6% abv Squatters IPA is able to skirt Utah's 3.2% abw alcohol maximum because it can only be sold in establishments with liquor licenses. The bottled IPA was fizzy gold and served way too cold. As it warmed, we discovered a wonderfully bitter beer bristling with hoppiness from the tip of the tongue to the final gulp. Alcohol was obvious; malt was not. This beer was challenging in hop complexity and was quite nice. We ordered several rounds for the table.

     Our more-than-patient waitress allowed us to tour Jenny's three-floor brewhouse. A circular staircase led to the upper floor, where hired laborers had stacked bags of grain. On the floor below, directly beneath the grain mill, the mash tun awaited each load of crushed barley. Glycol-cooled fermenters and conditioning tanks stood gleaming beside the kettle, all visible from the dining area. The basement walk-in cooler held serving tanks and dispensing pumps. Production is at capacity; 1,600 barrels are brewed each year. Thanks to Jenny Yohe's ales and lagers, Squatters certainly is "Good for What Ales You."

Desert Edge Brewery

     Desert Edge is another example of excellent beer in alcohol-crippled Salt Lake City, with a 1996 Great American Beer Festival gold medal for Hefeweizen; a 1997 GABF bronze medal for Latter Day Stout; a GABF bronze for English Bitter in 1999; and gold again for Rye Ale in 2001.

     Only the most recent medal belongs to current brewer Chris Haas, who has been in charge for the past three years. A former Squatters brewer, Chris has a theory on why Utah brewers excel in spite of the 3.2% limit on alcohol content in beer: "There's nothing like brewing 3.2 beer -- 3.2 does not hide beer flaws or off-flavors," Chris noted. A Michigan State grad who moved to the area for tennis and skiing, Chris made a good point about brewing precision.

     As do Chris's beers. Sitting on the beer-bar side of this split restaurant (wine and liquor are served in the upper bar -- don't ask -- something to do with licensing), we received a taster tray that began with Pub Pilsner. This Czech-style beer, lagered seven weeks, was clean and fulfilling, presenting sour citrus bitterness, courtesy of traditional Pils Saaz hops. With 45% wheat in the bill, Happy Valley Hefeweizen was a fruity American wheat, lemon sour and lightly bittered. Brewed within the state's regulations, Utah Pale Ale is as close to an IPA as Chris can come. Pacific Northwest-grown Cascade hops provided a floral hop aroma. This medium-bodied beer was bitter to the end, leaving a pleasantly bitter aftertaste.

     Celebrating the Desert Edge's 30 years in business (the brewhouse was installed in the restaurant in 1995), Anniversary Amber Ale offered peachy flavor tones with a tart, fruity finish and dry aftertaste. Three seasonals and a cask-conditioned ale rounded out the selection. Smooth from nitrogen infusion, the Special Bitter was mouth-puckeringly bitter. With a light chocolate effect, Downtown Nut Brown was medium-bodied and surprisingly dry, while All the Way Alt boasted hints of roasted malt followed by a faint bitter ending. On cask (Chris claims he makes the state's only real cask-conditioned ales), Latter Day Stout was warm, smooth and delightful, with flashes of roasted and chocolate malts caressed by Nugget hops.

Uinta Brewing Company

     A trip to the west side of SLC revealed another exceptional brewery. Uinta Brewing Company opened for business in 1993. The microbrewery moved to a beautiful new building in 2001, complete with its own bar known as the Brewhouse Pub. Brewmaster Will Hammill was out when we visited, though we caught Sales Director/Partner Steve Kuftinec as he was about to leave. Eyeing our table full of sampler glasses and my notepad, he stayed to chat for a while, eventually pulling out a few bottles of the really good stuff -- barley wine brewed for personal consumption and for serving at out-of-state festivals.

     Named for Utah's highest mountain range, Uinta was the first distributing brewery in the state. Uinta brewed 13,781 barrels in 2001, all distributed within the state in bottles and kegs. The 2002 output exceeded 14,000 barrels. Capitalizing on the state's fledgling windmill business, the facility is 100 percent wind-powered, meaning that each year the release of 357,120 pounds of carbon dioxide -- equivalent to the amount produced by driving 343,400 miles -- is prevented. The Environmental Protection Agency recognized Uinta's effort with a Green Power Initiative Award.

     While the history of the 40-barrel brewery is interesting, Uinta beers are the reason it all works. Winner of a 2000 GABF gold, Cutthroat Pale Ale, the best-selling craft beer in the state, according to Steve Kuftinec, was a nice session pale ale. Slightly acidic and cloudy gold, Golden Spike Hefeweizen was more pils-like than hefe. India Pale Ale worked the smooth, hoppy angle. Even though it's a succulent ale with roasted malt benevolence, King's Peak Porter has won three GABF medals in the Schwarzbier (dark German lager) category. The two seasonals were just as tasty. Summer Ale was clean and sweetly pungent in the kolsch style. Named for an ancient form of ski jumping, Gelande Amber Lager began with chocolate notes before mellowing to a caramel symphony.

     As for the aforementioned out-of-state-only hefty ales, Anniversary #5 Barley Wine, four years in the bottle, compared favorably to #9, which had been bottled only two weeks earlier. The younger was akin to a double IPA, while the elder, brewed to the same recipe, was sherry-like, malty with a zing and a strong bitter finish.

Hoppers Seafood & Grill

     In the suburban community of Midvale, Hoppers Seafood & Grill opened for business in December 1996. As we -- this time a large group of 12 -- squeezed in at the bar while awaiting a table for dinner, brewer Tim Barr's brewhouse glistened before us. The harried bartender, none too happy to be serving two taster trays to such a crowd, relented, and we began our tasting frenzy, passing tiny glasses and comments. Orange Honey Wheat was first off the circular rack. Served with a slice of orange, this cloudy pale yellow ale, topped by bubbly whiteness, was thin in flavor. Oh My Hefeweizen was spicy, showing a little clove in its unfiltered goldness. Designed to emulate "your favorite Mexican beer," Uno Mas ("one more") came with a wedge of lime. As are most south-of-the-border lagers, this one was unadventuresome.

     Big in lager profile, the 2000 GABF silver-winning This Is the Pilsner was decent, with potent Saaz hop bitterness. Munich malt and bitter mid-mouth taste highlighted Pale Morning Ale, while McGee's Red, smooth in mouthfeel, was dominated by its tangy dry bitter finish. More satisfying than the Red, the seasonal Bob Barley's Dreadlock Draft (with a percent of proceeds donated to the Jamaican bobsled team) was a medium-malty, amber lager. Roasty in taste, Rockwell Porter featured flashing glimpses of coffee and chocolate, while Madame X Stout, served on nitro, was rough, with complex harsh malt tannins, most notably coffee bitterness. Two handpumps beckoned behind the bar, but alas, the brewery had ceased offering cask-conditioned ales many months prior. We each ordered pints of our personal favorites and headed to our table for dinner.

     With one GABF medal and a wall lined with North American Brewers Association plaques, Hoppers obviously brews good beer. However, our experience that evening with a put-out bartender and an impolite waitress left us with a less-than-warm feeling about the brewpub. Another comment from the gentler gender: "The ladies room was nasty."

Bohemian Brewery & Grill

     As there was still time for dessert and a nightcap, we retraced our path to find Bohemian Brewery & Grill. Former home of Avalanche and Brookhaven brewpubs (the latter closed in July 2001), Bohemian opened in January 2002. There was enough room at the long bar for all of us, though the women chose to sit behind us, huddled over a freestanding bar, to discuss dessert selection. Our bartender, Ryan Draney, known as Assistant Brewer Chainsaw, was eager to serve.

     Bohemian Head Brewer Martin Lutera is a native of the Czech Republic. He acquired his brewing prowess working for Plzensky Prazdroj, the Prague brewery that makes Pilsner Urquell. These days he brews nothing but traditional old-world lagers -- and they were great. Almost every ingredient is imported, including the Prague yeast used in Czech Pilsner. This clear gold lager was crisp, complete with a bright bitter slap. Half wheat in malt bill, Bavarian Weiss lagered three months before serving. The yeast profile left banana ester with little sign of clove, while the Viennese was a darker version of the Pilsner. Cherny Bock was a Schwarzbier with appropriate burnt caramel taste enhanced by distant smokiness. Martin and Chainsaw work with a 12-barrel brewhouse featuring two mash tuns, which facilitates the traditional decoction brewing necessary to make these true-to-history beers.

     Bohemian's log cabin interior was friendly and inviting. Dried hops hung over the bar area. Real hops are grown in back of the restaurant, as are many of the kitchen's herbs and vegetables. Upstairs, the owner's scooter collection, featuring 1950s and 1960s vintage two-wheelers, was on display.

     Bohemian Brewery was a great find. I wish we had stopped for dinner instead of only for dessert. Speaking of which, the ladies enjoyed freshly made chocolate cake, strawberry crepes (chocolate hazelnut and raspberry crepes are also available) and plum dumplings.

Red Rock Brewery
254 S. 200 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Utah Brewers Cooperative (micro)
1763 S. 300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Squatters Pub Brewery
147 W. Broadway
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Desert Edge Brewery
273 Trolley
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Uinta Brewing (micro)
1722 S. Fremont Dr.
Salt Lake City, UT 84104

Hoppers Seafood & Grill
890 E. Fort Union Blvd.
Midvale, UT 84047

Bohemian Brewery & Grill
94 E. 7200 South
Midvale, UT 84047

"Beer is a pleasure that should not be abused," muses beer writer Bobby Bush, who calls Hickory, N.C., home. The longtime beer enthusiast won Wynkoop's Beer Drinker of the Year contest in 1998. Send inquiries to bobbywbush@charter.net.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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