“So, do you have real beer?”
It’s a rare night that somebody doesn’t ask me this question. My standard response is and will always be: “All of my beer is real.” It’s a really annoying question because it discounts the quality products I’m selling and my ability to pour you the right drink from behind the bar. What these guests are really asking is whether or not we sell highpoint beer. There are a great deal of misconception about Utah’s liquor laws and none are as upsetting to out-of-towners than the fact that we sell 3.2% beer on tap. Even though we’ve done away with private clubs four years ago, visitors to Utah still think getting a drink is limited to whatever you brought with you on the plane.
I know a few things about the person immediately after they ask this question: one, they are from out-of-town. Salt Lakers ask for DABC beer when ordering highpoints. Two, they have no intention of sampling any of our local fare. They have completely discredited Salt Lake’s local brewers because they produce 3.2% beer and have no intention of trying any of it. To my chagrin, when people find out that all of the draft beer is 3.2% they always order a Bud Light.
I believe that people mistake drinking for getting drunk. They treat going the bar like going to a Chinese opium den—all they want is to stumble out oblivious to the world. Because beer is meant for getting intoxicated, the idea of drinking a 3.2% is openly offensive to most people visiting Salt Lake. They treat our local brew like it’s made with training wheels on the side of the keg. What they fail to consider is that in keeping the alcohol level to 3.2%, brewers are free to craft delicious local products that reflect both the culture and geography of Utah.
I think it’s unfortunate that Utah beer gets a bad rap. With a handful of exceptions, most of the microbrew made in the Salt Lake region is pretty damn good. Between Squatter’s, Bohemia, Desert Edge, Wasatch, Uinta and Red Rock, there are dozens of really drinkable beers readily available on tap. Utah’s un-official beer is Cutthroat Pale Ale. I consider it a fantastic beer both in taste and marketing. It feels like Utah every time I pour one: crisp, slightly bitter with a toasted grain finish. For lack of a better description, it taste like beer. One of my favorite local beers is the Chasing Tail English Ale. It’s made by Squatters and it taste like liquid gold. It’s bright and bitter and pairs well with almost every dish I have drank it with. Any of the drafts from Desert Edge Brewer are top-shelf and the only fault I can find with Bohemian Brewery is that it is too far away from my house.
Anybody who tells you that the draft beer you’re enjoying is anything but 3.2% is either a liar, a fool or both. But this doesn’t mean that local brewers don’t make highpoint bottle beer. If we start looking at some of the DABC microbrews, there are some bottles out there that will absolutely curl your toes. Squatter’s Hop Rising (American Double/Imperial IPA) is such a beer. Weighing in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume), Hop Rising is delicious, rich, bitter and dangerous. I have made the mistake on one too many occasions thinking I can suck back four of these brown beauties and still operate anything more complicated than a Pringles Can. Uinta Brewery makes a barley wine that can knock-down a rhino from 50 paces. What we lack in numbers, we make up for in strength with the quality of local beer.
I always imagine the people complaining about the strength of our local beer as having a dedicated beer shelf in their home. Some sort of shrine to past bottles consumed, carefully organized to show both the breath and taste of their beer drinking exploits. In this they do share something with our local brewers: every brew pub in Salt Lake City has a similar display showing off the multiple metals they have won at national beer competitions for both the quality and craftsmanship of their beer.
Too often higher alcohol content beer packs too much flavor into the glass. I have a hard time knocking back a variety of porters, ales and stouts and not feeling like I’ve eaten a turkey dinner. Moreover, the feeling I getting buzzed off of beer is often off-putting. My body reacts differently to certain drinks. With really highpoint beers, I feel like my head is filled with cotton balls. The idea of ordering multiple rounds of Imperial Stouts and doing anything besides sitting beside a fireplace just isn’t going to happen.
I always use the BBQ cooler as the litmus test for what you’ll drink. We’ve all done it. We get invited to a summer BBQ. Protocol demands that you bring something to grill and a six pack of beer. The host provides a large cooler filled with ice and everybody communally shares their beer. At first, you just drink whatever you’ve brought but eventually, you just pull out and drink whatever you grab. It’s like bobbing for apples for adults. When I’m reaching in, all I care about is how cold the bottle or can is. I don’t need a Coors Light mountainscape turning blue to tell me which one to drink. The colder the beer, the better and I wish people would consider this when ordering at the bar. Instead of complaining about the ABV of the beer, I’d be more interested in whether or not we had cold beer mugs. A frosted pint glass trumps any other consideration when I am ordering or pouring a beer.
So let’s settle the debate on real beer once and for all. If all you care about is getting drunk, believe it or not, Utah beer can get the job done. I can tell you first hand that a well laid bender can start and finish with any beer sold here in Utah. The stigmatism of local beer not being real beer is a fallacy simply because you’re able to get nice and tight from draft beer. To believe you will not become intoxicated from Utah draft beer is absolutely ridiculous and negligent. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at some numbers. Let’s consider the difference between Bud Light sold in St. Louis MO and Salt Lake City. I’m using the watery, metallic tasting Bud Light as an example because it is the most popular beer in America. Bud Light in Missouri (as well as in the rest of the Nation) is 4.2% ABV. Bud Light in Utah is 3.2% ABV. Take out your calculators and help me figure out the beer math:
Utah Bud Light is 0.76% as strong as Missouri Bud Light. Therefore it takes approximately four Utah beers to equal the alcohol content of three Missouri beers. It’s a four to three ratio and with those kinds of numbers we’re really just talking about bladder strength. If you consider that the average beer sold in America is in the range of 5% ABV, you would need to drink five Utah beers to equal three average beers. Considering how popular steins are in Utah bars, the average Salt Lake beer drinker is able to keep pace with the rest of the nation every time they belly up to the bar.
I’d like to think it is addition by subtraction because you can have a couple more without becoming a slobbering mess. The only real downside to drinking Utah beer is the calories. With Bud Light carrying 116 calories you will need to work out a little harder at the gym the next day. Because drinking at the bar is more costly than drinking at home, part of the fun is hanging out in the club and experiencing the bar. If we don’t have what you want, I am sure I can find something that you’ll like. And if you’re worried that you’re not getting where you want fast enough, for God’s sake, order a shot.
So, in the end, just shut your trap about real beer, order one of the many delicious local beers we have on tap and enjoy the show. Part of the experience of visiting a new city is trying the local brews and if you get hung-up about the alcohol content you’re going to miss out on some good beer. I love shattering people’s impression of our fair little city. Salt Lake is a series of contradictions and none more significant than our drinking culture. By complaining about our liquor laws and the alcohol content of our beer, I am forced to believe that wherever you are from there are a lot of dangerous drunks wandering the streets. Next time you come down to Keys on Main, ask me what’s good and not if we have real beer. I guarantee you’ll much rather have me pour you a Wasatch Evolution Amber Ale instead of pointing you towards the front door.