A Storm is Brewing

Craft Breweries in Utah Winning Awards, Gaining Recognition

Here's the thing about the craft brewing scene in Utah: it's thriving.

We don't have the most microbreweries per capita. That distinction belongs to Vermont. In terms of total beer consumption, Utah drinks the least in the nation (go North Dakota). Despite drinking the least, Utah has seen a 5.28 percent increase since 2011, growth second only to, uh, North Dakota. While Utahns don't drink much, we do drink well: Utah-based breweries took home five coveted medals at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF), building on multiple accolades from other high-profile national and international competitions in recent years.

Stacks of Uinta beer ready for distribution

Craft breweries of all sizes can be found throughout the state of Utah, including in Moab near Arches and Canyonlands national parks, in Springdale at the mouth of Zion National Park, in Price, throughout the Wasatch Front, in Park City and as far north as Logan.

To try this this year's Great American Beer Festival winners, check out Hopper's in Midvale, Red Rock and Squatters in downtown Salt Lake and Wasatch in Park City. Squatters and Wasatch products can also be found at their Utah Brewers Co-op facility in Salt Lake City. Uinta Brewing products can be found at their rapidly expanding facility several blocks to the west. All offer great food to pair with their lineup of intriguing brews.

A Hop Above the Rest

One of the winners, Paardebloem, according to a press release by Red Rock, means "dandelion" in Flemish. The beer takes its name from the bittering dandelion greens that do some of the work of hops. The beer was inspired by 2008's hop shortage, a phenomenon that asked brewers to experiment with other ingredients and still please their consumers' demanding palates. Red Rock's success in this category points to the skill of Utah brewers.

The total field of winners covers great diversity in the beer world, from a sessionable summer ale to the higher-proof bottling of Squatter's "Old World" barrel-aged Belgian ale that weighs in at 6.75 percent alcohol by volume.

Over two hundred judges from 11 countries reviewed 4,809 beers in 84 style categories from 745 breweries spread across 49 states and Washington, D.C.

While Utah's 2013 GABF awards build on a growing legacy of award-winning brewing, it is only a fraction of the accolades being garnered by innovative Utah brewers.

Although young, Epic Brewing Company has been steadily climbing Ratebeer.com's top 100 breweries in the world list (Uinta is also featured), and is building mightily this year on their impressive list of accolades from their inception in 2010.

There's a well-reported sentiment that the infamous low-point limit on draught beer actually has a significant benefit for brewers in that it challenges them to brew better, being unable to cover up potential defects in beer with a higher alcohol content. Brewers then take that skill and apply it across their product line.

Liquor Before Beer

Mixologists, meanwhile, have put together some pretty incredible craft cocktail menus for your night on the town, whether dining in at Wild Grape, Copper Onion, Frida Bistro or Finca, or grabbing a beverage at Bar-X after the ballet. High West Distillery in Park City has set the bar not only for whiskey blending, new whiskeys and vodka in Utah, but has earned national distinction for their spirits.

Handcrafted classic cocktails at downtown Salt Lake's Bar-XWhen these experiences are paired with a blossoming farm-to-table scene, you can find flavors unique to Utah virtually anywhere in the state. All of these restaurants have carefully crafted cocktail menus, wine pairings or exclusive wines, and incredible cuisine.

And no, there are no discounted drinks during happy hour but Utah is still happier and more optimistic than most states. Last year's poll from Gallup Well-being showed Utah topping the nation for future livability based on 13 forward-looking metrics measuring standards of living, health, workforce and economic confidence.

Maybe we've earned that beer. But with fresh powder dropping in the mountains and resorts opening in the coming weeks, to really work up that thirst, we've got some playing to do first.

Awards from the GABF this year include:
  • Hopper's gold medal for their Munich-Style Helles Festbier, topping a field of 42 entries (4% abv)
  • The Utah Brewers Co-op's won silver in a field of 66 for their Belgian-Style Witbier, Wasatch White Label (6% abv)
  • Squatter's silver-medal winning Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale is The Fifth Element, and was chosen from among 47 total entries (6.75% abv)
  • In the English-Style Summer Ale Category, Uinta's Sum'r won a bronze from 27 entries (4% abv)
  • Red Rock's Paardebloem won a bronze in the Experimental category, a competitive field of 66 entrants.

 Patrons enjoy award-winning beer and sustainable pub food at Squatters