For the casual observer, Salt Lake City probably appears like beer purgatory. To those that know better, well they’d likely agree. The Mormon Church’s influence over alcohol legislation (they prefer juice) is well known outside of the city, anecdotaly at least. Fortunately, beer lovers have been pressing the limits for years and continue to work on satisfying the thirst of all of us who simply cannot resist Utah’s ridiculously sweet outdoor activities (world class skiing, biking, climbing, fishing, etc.). We discuss some of the top spots to find beer in SLC and try to explain its silly rules.
If you order a draft beer in Utah, it will be 3.2% alcohol by weight. That translates to about 4% alcohol by volume, the more common unit of measure. So those stories you’ve heard about “3.2 Beer” are not exactly true; you’ve been led to believe things are worse than they are. That being said, the beer you are going to find on tap is either brewed locally, or comes from one of the massive domestic or international breweries, because out of state craft brewers cannot justify making special batches just for Utah.
The Bayou knows it has its work cut out for it, but it shines as a beer oasis in this dry land. Not only does it pour a nice selection of local brews from its 30 taps, but the Bayou more famously boasts a massive bottle list. Sold to you via the pub’s liquor license, the bottle beer is immune from alcohol restrictions. If you are having trouble deciding from the list of over 200 bottles, the servers are trained in beerology and able to make suggestions. Pair your drink with a selection from the menu of creole inspired food. One slightly inebriated SLC resident, by way of New Orleans, told us the Bayou’s Crawfish Etouffe is the best in the city. Not sure how much competition it has…
A relatively new beer bar has opened in downtown, SLC. Immediately upon entering the Beerhive, patrons are treated to an impressive back-bar with its deep colored wood columns nearly reaching the 20 foot ceilings. The walls are decorated with pictures of fallen SLC breweries from the early 20th century and the basement features billiards tables. The Beerhive, though, wasn’t named for its stately décor. It too has an impressive list of bottle options where thirsty customers are sure to find something tasty to whet the pallet, not to mention plenty of taps releasing local favorites and seasonals. The “coolest” part of the establishment is the ice trough cut into the the length of the bar. This permanent ice tray keeps bar goer’s drinks the appropriate temperature, no matter how slowly the brew is sipped. The Beerhive asks you do not rest your tired feet on the ice.
If you like a little sports with your beer, check out the Fiddler’s Elbow. This Sugar House neighborhood joint boasts the TVs and memorabilia decorated walls essential to any quality sports watching pub. Most importantly, though, is they have 32 taps, featuring most of the local brewed beers in Utah, allowing you to taste the breweries’ flagship brands in addition to a drink to may not have had before. The bar’s logo still reads, “A Private Club for Members,” though the rule about all bars in SLC requiring membership has been repealed (hooray!) so the public is welcome. The Fiddler’s Elbow has crossed out that line with a sharpie on the sign at the entrance, just so there is no confusion.
Utah and the SLC area has a surprisingly long craft brewing history. Started in 1986 in Park City, Wasatch Brew Pub is the maker of the regional favorite Polygamy Porter. You do not need to hold a degree in Anthropology to understand the divide this name causes in the area. Thankfully for Wasatch, beer lovers embrace the tongue in cheek title, and label with the slogan, “Why have just one?” There is not a correct answer. In addition to thumbing it’s nose at the man, “Evolution Amber” also proves to be a tasty and very drinkable Amber Ale. For something a little stronger, don’t miss the “Devastator” an 8% ABV Dopplebock. Key note: brewpubs can pour higher alcohol beers at their location(s) as long as they brewed it themselves. All the more reason to visit.
Around the same time Wasatch was getting started, Squatter’s Pub opened its first location in SLC. The downtown spot looks and feels like the quintessential brew pub – large, open space with brick walls and exposed wood beams. Of course, they have plenty of beer as well. Squatters brews beers all across the style map, from German Hefeweizen to Belgian Abbey to Irish Stout to IPA. When at the pub, ask about the seasonals on tap, you’re sure to find something new. We like the beautifully colored, wonderful smelling “Emigration Ale” for an everyday drink. This beer was on tap opening day. You may also notice Squatters carrying a beer or two from the Wasatch Pub. Those the businesses operate independently of each other, they do help promote one another. After all, they are fighting the same battle. This is inline with Squatter’s operating triple bottom line philosophy – pay attention to People, Planet and Profit. This way of doing business has allowed them to expand to 3 locations and microbrewery. Might have something to do with the quality of beer as well.
Uinta was the first craft distribution brewery in Utah. Named after Utah’s highest peak, this brewery was, and remains, created as a company dedicated to its state, the outdoors, and good beer. Uinta is 100% wind powered. Its clever advertising reflects this commitment. “Improving Utah’s environment – starting with the beer,” and, “Keeping Utah the way we found it – except with beer,” are two of our favorites. The most popular craft beer in Utah, at least by volume sold, is Uinta’s Cutthroat Ale. After a long day on the mountain, split a pitcher with your friends and you’ll soon discover the reason for the brews success. As Uinta says, it’s, “So good they named a fish after it.”
A bit south in the dry desert region resides a fountain of beer, the Moab Brewery. If you want patrons to think your beer is good, set up shop in a desert frequented by outdoor enthusiasts. After mountain biking in the hot sun, any cold liquid would be delicious. To its credit, the beers produced by Moab Brewery taste delicious when sampled in an SLC pub, after a day of desk work at the office. The Dead Horse Ale is the company’s most popular, with good reason, but we also really enjoy the Scorpion Tale, an easy drinking pale ale. Whether your seeking shelter from blistering heat or the 9 to 5 rat race, Moab brews will hit the spot.