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Beer Me 

The Utah Beer Festival is a historic event.

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Shameless plug department: If you have some free time this Saturday, join the City Weekly crew at the first City Weekly Utah Beer Festival. The festival, which will be held in the civilized style of other regional beer festivals in which patrons are able to sample various brews, kicks off at 1 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the City & County Building. You must be 21 years old—and be able to prove it—to enter. Once inside the gates, you can wander the grounds to hear some music, eat some grub and sample Utah’s best beer brews. More than 40 beers will be available for sampling.

As City Weekly is the major organizer of the Utah Beer Festival, I don’t have any qualms about endorsing this event. Basically, it has to work. Not only is it very expensive to produce, it’s no minor task to get city officials, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) and Utah’s diverse beer-producing community on the same page. Indeed, this will be the first beer festival of this style ever held in Utah. On that score, I don’t think of this as an endorsement of beer, or of City Weekly.

Instead, I encourage you to participate so that you might be part of a historic event—other beer festivals in Salt Lake City, the most recent of which was held more than a decade ago, required that a beer connoisseur purchase individual beers as he or she went along. This time, consumers will be provided a plastic cup that can be used for sampling at multiple vendors for just one price. Try a sample here, walk to another sample over there. In between, buy some food or listen to some music. Think of it as Utah leaving the Bronze Age.

You can even buy a commemorative mug to save and to pass along to your heirs when you die. You just can’t use it for beer, which is restricted to 3-ounce pours in the aforementioned plastic cups. Don’t be dismayed—a 3-ounce pour is standard at such events and is an adequate sample size in any circumstance. The festival ends at 6 p.m. with the official shutting-of-the-taps ceremony, a fireworks display by the two guys we hired to make a run to Evanston and a sing-along led by City Weekly Publisher Jim Rizzi. He’s chosen that baby-boomer classic, “Sandman,” by America, to be the official anthem of this event:

"Funny, I’ve been there/ And you’ve been here/ And we ain’t had no time to drink that beer."

And so on.

See you Saturday. But, we know you have lots of options and, if we don’t see you, we can only guess that you’ve done one of three other things: You may have gone to the Utah State Fair—because you’re a creature of habit and you don’t think all cows look alike. You may be at Rice-Eccles Stadium watching the Utes—but seriously, giving up your UNLV tickets is no great shakes. You also may have gone to the other festival in town, the sudsy Greek Festival, where you can experience the many things that define the local Greek culture: Greek food, Greek dancing, Greeks fighting with each other, and Greeks selling beer to non-Greeks to generate parish funds.

Like our own festival (which, in hair-splitting parlance, is for “adults only”), beer is a major headliner of the 2010 Greek Festival. The Greek Festival began more than 30 years ago as a bazaar with bread and pastries as the attraction. Later, as it became a bona-fide festival, food, festivities and dancing took center stage. Now, center stage is a beer mug. The Greeks aren’t alone, either. At the September commission hearing of the DABC, nearly all of the special-use applicants for liquor or beer licenses were for church groups.   All were granted permits that will help generate operating funds. Ironically, a portion of those proceeds even goes to another group dependent on liquor: the Utah Legislature, which spends liquor funds with no questions asked. I’d ask the Greeks where their money goes, but that would just start an argument.

A couple of years ago, former DABC commissioner Bobbie Coray nearly spilled a drink on the system when she wanted rules changed for dispensing beer at such events. The Greek Festival came close to being denied a beer license that year. Coray questioned the wisdom of displaying beer prominently at those functions and sought to segregate beer dispensing from areas where minors congregated. For that, Coray was scorned as one more prudish liquor commissioner  who allowed her religion to cast her vote.

However, compromises were reached that preserved the ability of special-use groups to benefit from beer sales, including how IDs are checked and the amount of beers than can be purchased and dispensed at such events.

Coray apparently intended to protect nondrinkers, especially children, from whatever harm there might be from being exposed to alcohol. That’s where she went wrong. With that as the crux of her argument, she was shut down, because the ensuing outcry became cast as one more Mormon vs. non-Mormon issue. Non-Mormon drinkers have had a gut full of being told what to do by the likes of Coray.

However, Greeks, who are prone to making a royal mess of things while stone-cold sober, aren’t immune from making things worse with beer—they just think they are. Coray should have pointed to the Greek youth, especially the dancers who now play second fiddle to ice-cold beer, and said, “Hey! Wake up! Can’t you see what you’re telling your kids?” Swallowing my Greek pride, I must say that, on this one, she was more right than wrong. 

John Saltas:

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