As the last golden rays of sunlight faded behind the ridge, we began our descent. The rappels below awaited us as we hurriedly built an anchor and lowered into the twilight. The day’s adventure had begun with a 6 a.m. wake up call to grab gear and meet at the Little Cottonwood park-n-ride. Destination: The Thumb, one of the Wasatch’s signature climbs. At over 800 feet, this climb requires an early start and a bit of fortitude. The first few pitches went smoothly, but as the sun baked our skulls and fried our skin, shade and a cold frosty beer was all that drew us on. By 9 p.m., we were back on flat ground and utterly exhausted. Yet we still had enough energy to use our battered fingers to crack open some suds.
Why is that first sip so glorious? Maybe because it signifies the end of a triumphant day, where work and responsibility are put on hold so that we may indulge in the simple delights of looking across a great vista or gorging on powder. Or maybe it is just science. Whatever the case, there is nothing better, and as outdoor enthusiasts we understand the sacrifices made to enjoy that one refreshing beverage, even if it happens to be warm and flat. Each of us has at least one fond memory of coming off an epic adventure and reveling in the carbonated bliss of a beer. It is a chance to reflect on the day’s excitement and share a side of how everything went down. I bet Salt Lake would be a very different place if Brigham Young had been greeted with a tall cold one upon entering the valley in 1847. However, since that never happened, the brewers of Utah have had to be very creative in getting their offerings to the masses over the past 162 years.
Enter the brewmaster. With an eye for quality ingredients and palate-enticing flavors, he (or she) shapes the way we think about our beer. Indeed, not long after the Mormon settlers entered the valley, brewing began to emerge as a viable way to make a living. Starting with the great Henry Wagener, a German immigrant who opened the first commercial brewery in the state. Henry Wagener’s California Brewery commenced operation in 1864, literally across the street from where Brigham Young famously said, “This is the place” upon the pioneer’s arrival. In addition to the California Brewery, many other brew houses began to pop up to serve the thirsty miners plundering the hillsides for copper, silver and gold. They truly knew the value of a refreshing beer after a long day’s work. The town of Alta even had a few breweries; unfortunately none exist today. As local brews became increasingly popular, efforts to curb drinking in Utah arose. The church had its fair share of public outcry, and eventually their prayers were answered in 1919 with the ratification of prohibition. For the next 14 years, Utahans, along with the rest of the nation, had to search out more illegitimate means to obtain their delicious drink. Luckily, however, the Salt Lake City Brewing Company and the Becker Brewing and Malting Company of Ogden had the foresight to change their names and stay in business- offering up the infamous “Near Beer” to those lawless locals. In a book entitled Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah, author Del Vance outlines the chronology of Utah brewing and the ingenious men and women who fought to keep it alive. He also presents a detailed collection of Utah breweries and how they contributed to the state’s illustrious brewing history.
With prohibition now just a forgotten memory in the minds of many, brewing in Utah has blossomed into a growing industry reminiscent of former days. New laws and regulations concerning the brewing and distribution of beer throughout the state have breathed fresh air back into the parched lungs of local brewmasters.
Greg Schirf, a true Utah beer-pioneer, is one such individual. His love for the craft and dedication to see its evolution over the years is the primary reason you can even get a beer at a restaurant to commemorate a classic day of shredding or paddling. Schirf, founder of Wasatch Beers, viewed his involvement in the changing of laws regulating brewpubs in Utah as a matter of survival. Additionally, he wants to see his beer enjoyed by all the adventurous locals who have supported Wasatch for nearly 23 years. Greg’s connection to the community is well known, and he works to create good will by sponsoring local events, such as the Tour de Suds, a bike race in Park City, Utah. The company also sponsors the Outdoor Retailer Show every year at the Salt Palace. At the show, Wasatch and Squatters provide the main source of refreshment for thirsty outdoor enthusiasts from around the country. “Interacting with people that love the outdoors (and beer) is a great way for us to reach more consumers,” said Schirf. He also added, “We like to be wherever people sweat.”
Following in the wake of Schirf and company, some ambitious new breweries have tapped their kegs and introduced a variety of exciting beers for the public’s enjoyment. Desert Edge Brewery, Roosters Brewing Company, and Moab Brewery produce several forms of liquid salvation to savor on a hot summer’s evening after a day of riding the Crest trail or climbing in Big Cottonwood. These younger establishments are in tune with their clientele and work hard to create delicious libations that satisfy the soul and deliver a unique drinking experience. Whether you are a miner, skier, climber or biker, one thing is certain of all Utah breweries; an adventurous spirit is always thirsty for more, and they will always be there to quench that thirst.
Sean is a transplant from the hills of Tennessee, but he enjoys the commanding heights of Utah. After graduating from the U in December, Sean lived the dream as a ski bum at Snowbird. Mt. Biking–Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale
Riding your bike through the landscapes of Utah can be a great way to see some fantastic scenery and get the heart racing. Whether you prefer the high-altitude antics of the Wasatch Crest and Little Cottonwood Canyon, or the gorgeous cross-country meanderings of Moab’s Porcupine and Slickrock trails, Full Suspension is a great beer to wind down with and determine who had the best crash.
Skiing/Boarding–Wasatch Winterfest–The snow has been piling up all season, and you and your buddies have been hitting the slopes hard. Those long lines at the Tram and lung-busting ascents up Kessler Peak will fade away once you take your first sip of this seasonal amber ale. Be careful though, this beer is the real deal (7.1% abv) and after a few more you may be claiming that you can ski the Pfiefferhorn naked.
Climbing–Moab Brewery’s Lizard Light Ale
After a skin-scraping day of sandstone cracks at Indian Creek, all you want is a cold beverage and maybe some peroxide. Or maybe you’ve been testing the limits of gravity on China Wall in Logan Canyon. Either way, you need some refreshment. This ale is sure to quench your thirst and cool your fiery fingertips. Sit back, relax, and discuss who took the best whipper.
There aren’t many things that compare to the feeling of landing a ten-pounder on a fly, but the smooth taste of a Cutthroat comes close. Keep a couple of these near by and watch the fish instinctively flock like the swallows of Capistrano. Ok maybe not quite like that, but at least you’ll have a healthy buzz to keep you occupied when they aren’t biting. Enjoy the state’s #1 selling craft-beer with your friends as you tell ‘em about the one that got away.
All these great selections can be found at your local grocery or liquor store, and they are the perfect way to show your support of Utah breweries. Cheers!