To start the New Year, our beer reviewer is filing reviews from his road trip. This stop: Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 1823, Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni, who led him to ancient writings that would eventually form the content of the Book of Mormon. "Come unto Christ," Moroni says in the book, "and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness. And no beer over four percent, either."
Utah has a reputation for many fine things—killer powder snow, rugged mountain vistas, clean underwear—but beer is generally not one of them. Despite a brewing history that dates back to 1856, the Beehive State enforces some of the most restrictive alcohol laws in the nation. Although it is no longer necessary to purchase a $5-10 "membership" to drink at a restaurant (even that went away only in 2009), draft beer is still capped at 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (4.0% ABV) and in many establishments, mixed drinks still need to be prepared out of sight of the customer—behind the "Zion curtain," as Utahans put it.
But in the face of adversity, boozers are nothing if not creative. The craft bars in Salt Lake City may be restricted to 4.0 percent on draft, but the 4.0 percent beer produced by Utahan craft outfits is nothing short of remarkable, packing as much flavor as possible into the tough limits. Top standouts include Bohemian Brewery, which releases a line of authentic German lagers, and Red Rock, whose "IPA Junior" ale is just a tad thin but pushes a lot of the same citrus notes that Fresh Squeezed offers.
Even better: There's no alcohol limit on bottles offered at bars. This is why places like Beerhive Pub in Salt Lake, established by Uinta Brewing co-founder Del Vance a stone's throw from the LDS Temple, offer bottle lists that would astonish even jaded Portlanders, boasting such heady bombers as Uinta's Cockeyed Cooper and Deschutes' Mirror Mirror barleywine—the 2009 vintage, for $21. ("I bought 20 cases or so before opening the bar," Vance said, "and they're still kicking around.")