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The Beer Issue 

Beer as Art

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Tasty to the Core

For more than half a century, Apple Beer has been one of Utah's finest exports.
By Alex Springer

  • Courtesy photo

As a teenager, I wasn't very interested in acquiring beer. I was, however, quite taken with the minutiae that is part and parcel of drinking beer—I owe most of this to Bob and Doug McKenzie in the film Strange Brew. Frosty long-neck bottles; the carbonated hiss of a newly popped cap; pillowy foam lazily bobbing on a golden surface. Like smoking, butterfly knives and Marilyn Manson, something about the appearance of beer seemed cooler than it actually was.

When I first discovered Apple Beer at the local Albertson's, I was a little apprehensive. I figured that since it was shelved with all the other sugary swill that I adored as an adolescent, that I wasn't going to get arrested if I brought it to the cashier. Even so, something about the caramel-colored bottle and the word "beer" made me think I was violating the moral code that my LDS upbringing had instilled. I bought the bottle without incident, twisted off the cap and introduced my taste buds to something that I would love for the rest of my life.

As most root beer is cloyingly sweet and most ginger beer tastes like gasoline, there's a welcome crispness to Apple Beer's flavor that cuts through the traditional soda-pop sugar rush. Perhaps it's because this particular recipe dates back nearly a century. According to local history, Apple Beer president and CEO Larry Stillman encountered a nonalcoholic drink called fassbrause in the early 1960s while serving an LDS mission in Germany. The beverage made an impression that Stillman wished to share with family and friends—so Apple Beer was born in 1964. It's remained a family-owned company since. The product's distributed as far as the Caribbean, where it's become popular to serve at weddings.

Locally, Apple Beer continues to earn accolades from consumers and business leaders alike. It's won multiple awards, and members of the Stillman family have delivered lectures and speeches to up-and-coming entrepreneurs across the state.

Over the years, Apple Beer has introduced a few new products that have diversified its lineup. I was at the Utah State Fair when I discovered the first of these—the low-cal cousin called Apple Beer Five. It maintains the same crisp taste, but it's sweetened with açaí and packs a ginseng kick, which is how it keeps the calorie count to just five per bottle. The full-octane version tastes a bit better because of cane sugar, but you could do much worse for a lighter soda. The company has also expanded its roster to include ginger beer—of the non-gasoline variety, of course.

With all this variety flooding local grocery stores, I felt that a definitive taste test was in order. I grabbed a four-pack of original Apple Beer and Apple Beer Five—both bottles and cans, in case you were wondering—and a four-pack of ginger beer. By far, an icy cold original Apple Beer in a glass bottle is the best way to experience this beverage. Apple Beer out of the can is still tasty, but something about the aluminum can mutes the drink's natural bite. The ginger beer is a mild brew—none of that chest-ripping ginger found in other varieties. In this case, the mild flavor of the ginger is overpowered by an abundance of sweetness.

Regardless of what you're after in a beverage, Apple Beer's selection has something that most fans of nonalcoholic beverages will enjoy, which is quite impressive considering the chokehold that international megacorporations have on the soft drink industry. Its continuing success is one of many examples of Utah's ability to hang with the big guys—especially when it comes to nonalcoholic beverages.

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