We May Live In A Desert But We’re Not Dry

American cheese. It's far from the best example of what America's dairy producers are capable of crafting, but because some corporate hack decided to call it "American cheese" we as a nation got stuck with this lousy faux cheese—representing to the rest of the world our collective "cheesiness." Now we all know that there are probably hundreds of unique cheeses out there that would probably represent us better, but it's hard to sway consumers when confronted by large corporate juggernauts and consumer biases. The same goes for Utah Beer. Again, another group of equally asinine burn-outs from somewhere in the not-too-distance past decided from some booze-pickled standard of what "good" is, declared that our beloved suds were too weak and tasteless to merit any positive praise. And as happens all too often, the mob ran with it and we as Utahans got cheesed.

Where did all this misperception of Utah-made beer come from? It's hard to say, But let's just say it's a complex combination of pious aversions to intoxicants and consumer miss-information coming together to create our current climate of barley and hop misconceptions.

One of the biggest misinterpretations of Utah beers is the dreaded 3.2 lcohol content. This is the problem many beer drinkers both from inside and outside of Utah have with the majority of our craft and microbeers. "That 3.2 shit is just too weak!" Well not exactly. The 3.2�andle that's been associated with our beer is about as inaccurate as you can get, especially when comparing Utah beers to other beer producers outside of Utah. The 3.2�ou know of comes from an older, lesser-used system of measurement called Alcohol-by-Weight (ABW). Most brewers worldwide use the measurement system Alcohol-by-Volume (ABV). This measurement is the world standard. So what's the difference? Well not much. It's all in the way you look at it. If you were to convert the measurement of a 3.2 BW beer with the standard ABV measurement you'll find that that 3.2�s really 4.0�if it's measured on the same scale as most of the world. It's like measuring distance in miles & kilometers. It's the same distance just different numbers. If you're going to compare a Bud Light that you bought at your local grocery store, with say a Bud Light bought in Wyoming, you might think you're getting far less alcohol in the Utah Bud Light. Well, guess what? You are getting less, a whole 0.2�ess alcohol per 12oz. Shocked? Most people are.

Dozen of brewmasters statewide work hard under very difficult restrictions to bring great tasting brews to local and national consumers. And it's not easy; Utah's liquor myths weigh heavily outside of Utah and many customers just won't shed their age-old thinking. So how do we change their thinking? I guess the easiest example would be to compare it to wine. Like wine, beer is brewed to match a specific style or taste. Each style has its own look, aroma, flavor and alcohol level. But beer is by far, more broad. For example. An English Pale Ale, generally has a golden to reddish amber in color with a nice foamy head. A mix of fruity, hoppy, earthy, buttery and malty aromas and flavors with an ABV level that ranges between 4.0 nd 5.0�German Hefeweizens are often a cloudy yellow color with unique phenol flavors of banana and cloves. They often have dry and tart edges, with an apple spiciness, little hop bitterness, and an ABV ranging from 4.0�o 7.0�And that's just two—there are dozens of styles worldwide! In fact, there are more styles of beer right now than there are varieties of wines, and Utah's brewers take full advantage of all styles. Just because there's a 4.0 BV cap at the grocery store doesn't mean Utah brewers with the ability to bottle their beverages can't produce beer with higher alcohol contents and do them well.

Squatter's Pub Brewery in Salt Lake City makes an India Pale Ale that is 6 BV, while Uinta Brewing Company makes a barley wine that often dials in above 10 BV. These "heavy" beers can be purchased only in Utah's state liquor stores. Both are highly regarded nationwide. But can these state imposed restrictions actually help make better tasting beer? Most Utah brewers think so. These brewing limitations that the state imposes on brewers has defiantly made them better brewers. With higher alcohol beers, it's easier to hide any imperfections in the beer. "That's what's great about low alcohol beer," said Jennifer Talley, Brewmaster at Squatter's Brew Pub in Salt Lake City. "You can't hide behind the alcohol. Everything we put into our beers is right on the palate." This means lower-alcohol beers made at Utah's microbreweries—Pale Ales, Hefeweizens and Stouts— are comparable to those made outside the Zion Curtain. It all comes down to smarter brewing and working within the law. It makes you want to scratch your head; have Utah's arcane laws actually helped to re-invent what makes beer "beer"? Does this careful attention paid between barley, hops, water and yeast payoff? It sure does. Every two years, an intense competition called the World Beer Cup is held in various cities around the world to honor the top three beers in 91 beer style categories with gold, silver and bronze awards. Since it's inception in 1996, Utah's finest craft brewers have participated in the World Beer Cup competition with consistently respectable showings. This past April in San Diego, California our local Brewmeisters and their teams (as well as brewers from 644 breweries, from 58 countries and 45 U.S. states) vied for awards against the 2,864 beers entered. If won, the coveted medals can propel brewmaster and brewery to the heights of international praise. Judging for the World Beer Cup (also known as the Olympics of Beer) is far from an easy task. No other worldwide beer competition is as well represented or judged. This is one of the few events where a true panel of International judges congregate to rate the international diversity of all beer styles. With so many beer experts from so many countries assessing entries, friction can arise when determining whether a beer is within stylistic guidelines (and I'm sure "tasting" beer all day doesn't help fuel the controversies). One would think this beer judging thing would be a no-brainer. Just get a bunch of beer lovers together in the same room and choose the best beer. Right? Well, not exactly. Our American brewers tend to be more cutting edge and innovative in their choice of ingredients and brewing techniques, whereas Europeans tend to display a greater adherence to traditional styles. It's these variables that require brewers to show a high level of latitude and compromise to evaluate each beer in blind competition. So how do Utah brews, the most misunderstood of all beers, rate in the great global scheme of things? All that careful attention to detail paid off in the 2008 World Beer Cup as Utahs brewers came home with two gold, three silver and a bronze.
Photo: Chris Swainston

First Uinta's Cutthroat Pale Ale (a personal favorite) won its second gold medal in World Beer Cup competition and fourth overall. This brew had the honor of being served with one of the courses of the World Cup's awards dinner because of its past performance. Squatter's Pub Brewery earned a gold with Alt and In the Way a well-hopped and malty beer with a dark copper color. Unfortunately you're going to have to wait a few months to try this one, Jenny Tally won't be making this seasonal again 'till September. The Utah Brewers Cooperative medaled next with a silver for its Bobsled Brown (readily available in bottles and on tap around the state). Polygamy Porter one of Utah's more infamous beers also captured a silver medal in the low strength ale or lager category (available in bottle and draft statewide). Rounding out the low strength ale and lager category Provo Girl Pilsner earned a bronze. Both Polygamy Porter and Provo Girl were brewed by Dan Burrick at the Utah Brewers Cooperative. Finally, RedRock Brewer Kevin Templin earned a silver in the American-style Brown Ale category for its RedRock Nut Brown Ale. With 30 entries, it was one of the largest beer categories at the competition. This is the fourth time in four World Cup competitions that Kevin's Nut Brown Ale has brought home a medal. And this is just one of many beer competitons that are held in the North America every year. The above named breweries and brewpubs as well as others, such as Hopper's, Roosters, Desert Edge and Bohemian just to name a few have similar showings on a regular basis in nationwide competitions. In fact last October at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Co., RedRock Brewing Co. won Best Large Brew Pub of the Year! That's Freak'n Huge! Do you know how many brewpubs are in the United States? 975! Booya! The market for these flavorful craft beers grew by double digits nationally in 2007, and sales figures locally are on-track with the national brewery and brew pub averages per capita. "Since 2004, dollar sales by craft brewers have increased 58 percent," said Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association. The strength of these numbers correlate with the growing American awareness of buying local products and a new-found preference for more flavorful foods and beers. Small brewers lead the beer industry in growth by offering tasty, interesting beers. All you have to do is venture out to one of our local breweries or brewpubs, sample some of their fine craft ales and lagers and you'll know that our brewers serve some of the very best in the world. To read more of Mike Riedel's rambling about beer, peep his blog: http://utahbeer.blogspot.com/.