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Home / Articles / News / Cover Story /  Brewing Up Controversy
Cover Story

Brewing Up Controversy

Along with the art of making a tasty beer, craft brewers are learning to organize.

By Randy Harward
Posted // August 24,2011 -

“Beer activist? I’ve never thought of myself that way,” says UtahBeer.com blogger Mike Riedel. “But I do like to fan the flames when issues that affect local craft-beer lovers arise.”

“We Utahns have unique problems and obstacles that are difficult for people nationally and globally to wrap their heads around,” Riedel says. “So I’m out there collecting news and information on my own with the help of many devoted beer geeks and industry insiders who understand and appreciate the need for a local voice.” He hopes to unite Utah’s beer consumers and producers to “share and motivate each other to help make Utah more than just that ‘freaky 3.2 state.’"

But while Utah’s liquor laws are peculiar, we’re not alone. “A lot of other states have very restrictive liquor laws that we don’t hear about,” says Uinta Brewing production manager Kevin Ely. “Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington State have some pretty intense laws.” Two dozen states—none of them Utah—have dry counties.

What’s more is, earlier this year, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG) was forced to defend brewers’ self-distribution rights against an amendment to Senate Bill 754. And in May, Alabama homebrewers were dealt a blow when House Bill 266, seeking to legalize homebrewing, went down in flames. Both situations were closely monitored by the beer-activism organization, the Brewers Association (SupportYourLocalBrewery.org).

Most craft brewers participate in the Brewers Association, including our locals, but Utah currently lacks an official BA media rep. That doesn’t mean they’re not active. Some, like Epic partner Peter Erickson, lobby on Capitol Hill. Shades of Pale proprietor Trent Fargher pulls his weight, too. Although taking on the entities that also control liquor licenses can be dicey, Fargher says, “I write, I attend, I bitch and I moan.” And Utah brewers have realized there is strength in numbers: They’re banding together in the Utah Brewers Guild, an organization founded by Squatters and Uinta principals at the urging of the Brewers Association.

It’s something local brewers attempted as far back as seven years ago, says Ely, but there wasn’t much interest in what amounts to “a separate, nonprofit business.” However, with national backing from the BA, “there’s enough motivation to get everyone to jump on board.” While the UBG is still in its nascence, the members have been filing incorporation paperwork and writing bylaws since spring. Once the UBG formally exists, Ely says it can start holding events and raising money “to do all sorts of good things. We really want to have a local focus and educate the community about Utah beers and educate the people who are working in the brewing industry in Utah and make it more viable and accessible, a healthy and happy industry.”

“The breweries in Utah are growing and only getting bigger,” says Fargher, who also attends the UBG meetings. “Collectively, we will have a voice and will be able to get things accomplished in the future. A small group of people can cause a revolution.” 

If you’re feeling militant, join the Brewers Association (SupportYourLocalBrewery.org/apps/signup/signup.aspx) or call your representative:

Michael Waddoups: 801-967-0225, waddoups@utahsenate.org

John Valentine: 801-224-1693, jvalentine@utahsenate.org

Maybe someday the saying will be, “Eat, drink and be merry—you’re in Utah.”


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