Utah Craft Brewing

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 annually take home coveted medals from the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and other high-profile national and international competitions.

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. Moab Brewery, a perpetual favorite for bikers, hikers, river rats and regular folk, has beers and ales brewed on premise.

Past winners include Hopper's in Midvale, Red Rock and Squatters in downtown Salt Lake and Wasatch in Park City and Salt Lake 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, which is one of the nation's top 50 craft brewers by volume. Squatter's is one of Salt Lake's first brewpubs, in business for more than 25 years, has an extensive list of award-winning beer. Squatter's "People, Planet, Profit" mantra means a dedication to great service and sustainable, local products, where possible. Salt Lake's Red Rock Brewing Company is Zagat rated, and known for its "new American cuisine." There are several other notable craft brewers in the state, including Epic Brewing's fast-growing lineup and their Annex gastropub in nearby Sugar House, which features the brewery's 36 high-point bottled beers and eclectic dishes in a bohemian atmosphere. 

A Hop Above the Rest

One of the recent winners at GABF, 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.

While Utah's GABF awards in recent years build on a growing legacy of award-winning brewing, they are 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 (where 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. While Utah's bars only carry draughts at 4.0 percent ABV, local bars and restaurants stock bottlings of all ABV from across the world.

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, Finca, Em's or Rye Diner and Drinks, or grabbing a beverage at Bar-X after the ballet. High West Distillery in Park City has set the bar for not only whiskey blending, new whiskeys and vodka in Utah, but has earned national distinction for their spirits. Several other distilleries have launched in Utah, including Ogden's Own, Beehive Distilling and Sugar House Distillery, whose grain-to-glass approach to craft distillation has its team sourcing quality raw materials, distilling their own spirits and patiently aging its earliest products in small batches. Sugar House also holds the distinction of offering Utah's first locally distilled rum.

When 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 2013 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.