I normally do my advanced beery reconnaissance but for this trip I was going to allow the magic of serendipity be my guide — Like jump and the beer will appear.
Moab & Salt Lake City
In July 2017, I had the chance to travel to Utah. My last time in the state was over 20 years ago and then I was interested in having a beer with my meal, but not much more depth than that. This time I'd have more time and a greater interest in exploring the local beer scene. I've grown since then and I was certain that their beer culture had, too.
This was a business trip in Salt Lake City (SLC) for my wife and got to go with play in mind. We had planned to arrive a few days early to allow some play in the desert in Moab and Arches National Park. When planning a trip I normally do my advanced beery reconnaissance but for this trip I was going to allow the magic of serendipity be my guide. Kind of like jump and the beer will appear.
Salt Lake City - Part 1
After flying into Salt Lake City, my wife and I needed to find a good meal. She accommodates — perhaps tolerates — my desire that good beer to be part of the equation. Most often, the food is good and even exceptional at brewpubs. Some beer-centric pubs have become among our favorite places to eat and we will often share these with our friends and family — shout out to The High Spot in Cambridge MD.
Our first stop was Wasatch Brewery Sugarhouse. Some years ago a colleague had visited SLC and my gift was a deck of Polygamy Porter playing cards. Tell someone you'd had a beer in SLC and their response is often, "Did you have a Polygamy Porter?". So now I can say, "Yes, I have."
We had a long drive to Moab ahead of us and a light meal was in order — and unfortunately, just one beer. Wasatch is a bright and cheery place. We ate outside since the Utah weather was tame and we'd been cooped up in a plane for too many hours. Coming from the humidity ladin East Coast, we immediately noticed the dry air, feeling fresh and welcoming.
This corner of SLC was very clean and bright, with a nice urban energy that draws you in and grabs your attention — busy but not crazy or confusing. It was very much a bike-friendly city, but more on that later. We had our meal and my beer, then we were off for the long drive to Moab.
Moab & Arches
We finally made our way to Moab after a long and often beautiful drive. Moab has one brewery, Moab Brewing. That is amazing since Moab is really a small town, but it is a very popular tourist attraction with Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park all just a few miles away. Our Airbnb host offered a few suggestions for dining and she wasn't a fan of the brewery — that was unless you're a craft beer fan she added. Yup, that's me. So we gave it a try.
The brewery was very busy the evening we were there, our food was excellent and the beer offerings fine. Our staff person was very friendly and very attentive to our questions and requests. When we are in Moab again we will be back.
One place we really enjoyed for breakfast was the Peace Tree Cafe right on the main drag through town. While the days would get hot, the mornings were comfortable and we took pleasure of their outside seating. While it was on the main traffic artery, it wasn't so busy to be bothersome. Definitely a recommended eatery and we practiced our own advice by eating there more than once.
The ABV Conundrum
Crazy questions confront you when drinking in Utah. Is it 3.2 or 4.0? What is the difference between a draft ABV or from a bottle? Where can you buy an original ABV beer to take home or enjoy back in the hotel? Questions you never have to think about normally when visiting a new town, right! Utah is different in many ways and how they treat alcoholic beverages is a precursor.
Here is what I learned by asking the bar staff our first night in Utah. If you order a draft beer, expect it will be 4.0% ABV. You might hear something about 3.2, but that is percent alcohol by weight. Later, one barkeep asked me tongue in cheek not to state the 3.2 rule. While 4.0 sounds bad enough, 3.2 is simply embarrassing. I know in many states the brewing industry has worked successfully to reverse antiquated anti-business laws. So, I asked if there were any legislative movements to modify any of the rules regarding alcohol and he said no. He was probably not the best person to ask, but I thought if there were an active movement, even the local brewery staff would know about it. What I did learn was that while SLC may be a progressive town, with a sizable univeristy and the diversity that brings, when it comes to beer and such things, the rest of the state is very conservative and not too interested in making Utah more beer-friendly.
Bottles are different! You can get a high gravity beer if served in a bottle. Several of the establishments where I asked for samples served me from a bottle pulled from beneath the bar. Then you have to think about how fresh that might be. I do believe it requires more than a few days in the state and more than a few beers at an establishment to develop a trust relationship with someone serving you beer. In hindsight, many of the tasting rooms were mostly for tourists and meant to provide an initial experience into the local beer scene.
Salt Lake City - Part 2
Back in SLC again, I had our first evening in SLC to myself and thus had some time for beer adventures and whatever came my way. Doing a quick scan of the local beer scene, I discovered quite a few acceptable places within easy walking distance from my hotel.
Red Rocks Brewing
When I want to maximize my tasting options at a new brewery I like test flight, a row of 4 or 5 four-ounce samples. Red Rocks was an easy walk from my hotel, so I stopped in for a few of their beers. I looked over the beer menu, asked if they offered flights. "We can give you two", was his reply. I tasted from my two and ordered a couple more. "Nah, you have to finish those before I can serve you any others", said my barkeep. "Really!" "Oh yeah, you can only be served two samples at a time". In other words, there can only be two samples in front of you at any given time. Whoa partner, you can drink, but we're not gonna make it easy for you.
Looking over the beer menu for possible "not-to-miss" beers I discovered Paardebloem. This was described as a Belgian-style ale brewed with dandelions — now that is an interesting ingredient! At one time, this beer was a collaboration brew made with New Belgian, but I was told it is now brewed by Red Rocks alone. While they didn't have any of the 500ml bottles in the house, they did have the 750ml. The night was getting long and if it were earlier in the evening, there would have been little discussion. But as it was, I made a note and would have to leave this trophy beer for another day. I made a promise to the barkeep that I would have this beer. Stay tuned, there is a happy ending.
At my first opportunity I wandered the short walk from our hotel to Squatter's Brewing. Reading through the reviews I was reserved about this venue, but since it was so close, I had to check it for myself. I'm glad I did.
The bar is a handsome, welcoming place to grab a pint and a bite.
Since I was alone and the place was hopping, I decided to grab a quick seat at the bar. My personal first impression was mixed. The food was good as were the beers. Many of the reviews stated that the staff were generally disinterested. After my first visit — and there were several — I would have to agree. I would later come to the revelation that my experience and opinion was based on the fact that I was at a very busy bar and too near the straights of food service galley. Staff was running to and fro through a narrow opening in the bar, right where I had landed. Never more!
Good food — fish tacos — but don't eat at the bar near the kitchen entrance — it's a jumble.
This is the art painted onto the wall outside Squatter's. It certainly demands your attention with its clever beery design and technique.
Psycedelic Hop Beard
More of the Squatter's art wall. I thought it was very cool and worth showing more than just a single image.
Squatters Take 2
Later my wife sent me a text message that she and her colleagues had concluded their meetings for the day and I could find them already at Squatters. So I would go back for another chance at Squatter's. I am so glad I did. This time we sat at a table, away from the bar and the bustle. Our experience was relaxed and the attention from our server was excellent. It wasn't the restaurant that was the problem, just where I'd landed my tush the first time.
My wife and company wanted to check out Squatters, so I gladly agreed to a reprise.
Squatters Take 3
A day later we were again looking for a late-night-quick-bite. Squatter's was within easy walking distance and since we had such a great experience the night before, an easy choice. We were not up for sitting in another restaurant so we opted for their carryout menu. Ahi tuna tacos, ahi tuna spring roll salad and Greek salad with grilled chicken to go. A few minutes later we were eating on the hotel deck with beer and wine I'd purchased at the ABC Store the day before. Nice, very nice!
The Shaker Pint
A nice pint in the ubiquitious shaker pint glass. The beer was good, so I have to forgive the shaker pint glasses. Although, this is a sticking point and an easy fix for establishments interested in taking their beer a bit more seriously.
The Epic Day
One place that popped up in my beer reconn was Beer Bar. I had a day scheduled to focus on the local beer scene and Beer Bar was first on the list. I had a full day planned so was out the door early. A short walk later and I'm at the front door, walk in, only to be told that the times on the Yelp website are wrong and they'd open an hour later. Arg, so a walk to the Temple Square would provide my diversion.
Beer Bar — the calm before opening for the day.
Beer Bar did have an extensive beer menu as was expected. I knew it was going to be a long, epic day of beer so I had to be judicious in my choice and practice some beery discipline. I noticed they had Paardebloem in the 500ml bottle and my choice was made. I'd found it and as promised to the barkeep at Red Rocks I did drink one — only it was at another venue.
Their food menu was not typical pub food, with the speciality focusing on artisanal sausages. I thouroughly enjoyed my lamb and herb brat.
Beer Bar Menu
Beer Bar menu displays a wide assortment of beers from far and wide.
Later in the day I'd asked one of the bar staff at Epic Brewing if they get the Dogfish Head 120-Minute beers in Utah. His reply was the ABC stores sell all of their beer at room temperature and not in a cooler. As a result, Dogfish who doesn't want to see their beer mistreated will not send their beer here. I'm not sure if that meant any beer or that they don't make a concerted effort to get their best beer into Utah. He went on to mention that Beer Bar goes to the extra effort to drive some distance to get cold kegs and will keep them in in their own coolers so that they can serve the best beers. That is dedication to the craft. I'm not certain that is true, but it that is the stuff beer legends are made of.
Paardebloem & Sausage
Lamb & herb brat. Red Rocks Paadebloem brewed with dandelions - 500ml.
Epic Brewing was one of my must see breweries while in Salt Lake. I've found some of their beer back in Maryland, so to be at one of their breweries — the other is in Denver CO — was an important stop. As I walked through the door, I came into their bottle shop. Right around the corner was their tasting room — or should I say restaurant.
SLC has some very strange customs and to serve beer in a somewhat normal fashion, they have to be associated with a restaurant. And so, Epic promotes themselves as the smallest restaurant in town — with just four seats.
Looks at the brewing equipment from the street.
The chalkboard declares with some pride that they have the city's smallest restaurant — it has just four seats. When you hear this, you have to chuckle. But then it just goes along with the rest of the SLC relationship toward alcohol. To taste some of their beer they are poured from bottles. Plus, they had to serve beer with food, and thus the tasting room with a small kitchen and four seats. I ordered the mediterranean salad figuring it was a safe choice (and trying to eat healthy). The beer I tasted were all excellent and they had a good menu to choose from. Apparently their Denver brewery houses their barrel aging program.
Salt Lake's Smallest Restaurant
The taproom — or should I say restaruant — was a small room tucked away from view.
I was hoping to pick up a souvenir from my beery travels but alas, again, no t-shirts. But I did pick up an armful of their beer to travel back to Maryland. So, beer stop number two was accomplished with two other breweries within easy walking distance. Doesn't that just sound inviting?
With just a short walk I made my way to Proper Brewing. Proper was not on my original list of stops for the day, but the barkeep at Epic mentioned it and pointed me in the right direction. With it being so close, how could I refuse.
Reading my Epic tasting notes while drinking at Proper.
Proper Brewing was bright and airy with a good vibe. The barkeep was friendly and we had a long conversation about his Circular Gallifreyan tattoo. He had these curious circular patterns draped across his arm and I could not let that go by without knowing its meaning and source.
Proper Brewing Street View
Proper Brewing is along a busy road but inside you could find sanctuary.
A. Fisher Brewing
Right around the corner from Proper Brewing is A. Fisher Brewing. Not what I would call sprawling but comfortable with plenty of room to spread out at the brewery taproom. It is open, very industrial yet inviting. The staff was busy yet friendly and open to my questions about their beer. This would probably be my last brewery stop for the day — number four — and some eating was in order. As with many finer taprooms these days, a food truck was parked in the back and ready to please my hunger pangs. A quick trip outback to place my taco order and within a few minutes I had my tacos brought to my bar seat. What service!
A. Fisher Brewing
My tasting list for my stay at Fisher.
While Fisher didn't have a paddle tasting plan, you could try any of their beers on tap. Of course, only two at a time. I found their beers nicely done with some beer styles you don't see as often like a kölsch and cream ale.
The taproom is minalmallist with a lot of character.
Fisher Brewing Street View
The brewery / taproom has an industrial look and feel both inside and out. However the staff and beer instantly warm you up to their charm.
Reviewing the merch wall of shirts and such I'd hoped to pick up a bit of memorability. I liked many of their designs. But alas, no desired t-shirts in my size — again.
The taproom shares the space with the brewing tanks.
I had plans on continuing my journey to Bohemian Brewing, but my time was done, I had to meet my wife and friends back at the hotel for a planned bike tour of the city. So, I left with wanting but also with great satisfaction.
The ABC Store - ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL
As with many of my travels, I wanted to take some of the finer local beer home to enjoy later. When I was last in Salt Lake City over 20 years ago, one of the things I remember clearly from that trip was that ABC Stores were not easy to find.
I was told by some of the staff from previous stops during the week, that if I wanted to buy local beer at normal strength — not 3.2% ABW — I needed to head to the ABC Store. The store locations can be found online, and pointed my car to the one closest to my hotel and headed off to bring back my treasures.
My GPS led me to a grocery store and its parking lot. The sign above me stated this indeed was the location for the ABC Store. Looking around, the only store in sight was the grocery store. So I walked inside and at the back of the store was a host of beer bottles. I recognized some of the names but to my surprize, they all were low alcohol versions. What am I doing wrong? Obviously, not happy, I left the store. Back at my car I'm scratching my head, knowing I'm missing something. But what?
Ah, from the corner of my eye I see a fellow with a case of beer. A clue emerges. Not one to be shy when beer is involved, I ask, "Where did you get that?" He directed my gaze to a set of non-descript stairs near the grocery store entrance. "Down those green steps you'll find the ABC Store", he said.
And so I had discovered the buried treasure — figuratively and literally. There I found not only many great local beers, like the Epic Brainless serious, but also some domestic favorites not found back home, such as Deschutes Black Butte Porter. And as someone earlier had told me, they all were on the shelf and in boxes — none were refrigerated.
A Walkable Cycling Town
Walking around SLC you I quickly discovered that this is a very clean city. It is very walkable and makes many accomadations for bikes.
Salt Lake Street Art
Colorful tiles are embedded in the sidewalk to grab your attention and breakup what would be otherwise a drab concrete sidewalk.
Salt Lake Walkabout
Salt Lake City has many indications that want you to enloy your walks around the city, with family-friendl statues.
Anybody Got Any Tee Shirts
The morning of our departure I'd decided one more time to grab a tee shirt to document my trip and the local beer scene. Ah, Red Rock was just down the street. Just like the evening before at Squatter's, and at Fisher's and several other venues, they had no acceptable tee shirt designs in my size. I'd struck out again. Was it the time of season and they hadn't replenished from a busy Spring? The brewers convention had just left town? Strange!
Just One More
At the airport, we had some time to catch lunch before our flight. Our gang pulled up to a light meal friendly establishment and looked over the menu. Surprisingly, the beer menu wasn't a bust. Many airports have stepped up their game with many fine local beer selections. This may be a local business marketing program or just establishments taking advantage of the good-beer-movement, or probably some of both.
Red Rock Brewing was a fine establish that I wanted to get back to but it didn't work into the equation. Elephīno — I like everything about it — great label graphic, DIPA style. And what about the name? El-if-I-know? Oh yea, it tasted great, too.
One for the Road
The airport restuarant had one more beer waiting for me.
Never To Empty the Well
I have read that Ernest Hemingway had a practice that at the end of the day he would leave his writing with ideas still in mind, knowing where he would pick up when he returned. So it is with my beer touring of Salt Lake City. As I left Fisher Brewing, I knew my time had run out but I still had beery places to visit, see and drink. Uinta and Bohemian Brewing will be afresh, awaiting my next visit. There are high hopes we will be returning to SLC in fall of 2018. And, I know right where to pick up where I left off and with even more beery discoveries to be made.