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August 24, 2016 News » Cover Story

The Beer Issue 

The 7th Annual Utah Beer Festival Is Here!

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It's beginning to look a lot like Utah Beer Festival! Ah, yes, that most boozy time of the year is here, and with it, a whopping 240 or so different brews that'll be available this weekend at the Salt Lake Fairpark, ranging from Ales to Zwickelbier (OK, that last one might be a stretch, but I needed something with a Z).

Along with the plethora of suds, this year's fest has a spiffy (and free) new app that'll inform you on the vivid history of this year's participating breweries. You old souls out there can check out a map on p. 40 of the current issue for a tangible guide.

Who doesn't remember their first sip of beer? For me, it came after my sister's employed Tecate while sunbathing as a natural hair lightener (Sun-In was a pricey commodity back then). I still remember the revolting, warm swig. "Adults are weird," I thought. "Who on Earth would willingly drink this?" A few decades later, as evidenced by the clinking of cans meeting bottles when I take my recycling out, this is who. I'm glad to hear I'm not alone. Travel down a boozy memory lane as some notable beer connoisseurs share their colorful first beer-drinking experiences.

Want to up your cocktail-ordering cred? Beertails are where it's at, baby. Our top picks are available just a short Uber ride away. We also tip our full-strength glass to some of those kooky, surrealist and downright artistic labels found on some of our favorite brews we tend to stash around the office and pop frantically during deadline days. Find hipster flamingos, flaming rams and jumping bass (oh, my!) here.

From the days of ol' Brigham, the original homebrewer, in the 1800s to The Beer Nut opening its State Street doors in the 1990s, Utah beer culture runs deep. Our own Colby Frazier is adding his name to that illustrious list sometime, err ... soon. Read all about him and his partners' journey to open up their own small brewery here.

We skim this special package off with an homage to the woman responsible for many sticky beer coasters in the early 2000s: the St. Provo Girl, who far from the limelight is currently kicking ass in Oregon working on finishing her master's. Take that, Spuds MacKenzie!

So go through these pages aided by a tall, frosty one. Whatever you do, though, don't use it as a means of achieving golden highlights. I'm pretty sure that Tecate gave me childhood alopecia.

Enrique Limón


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MY FIRST BEER
Bartenders, brewmasters and musicians stumble down memory lane.
By Randy Harward

"Yeah, I remember my first beer." It's a great insult to hurl at new, or simply obnoxious, drunks.

My first beer came at age 5, when I mistook something domestic and watery for juice—I sipped and promptly spat. Years later, my cousins suckered me into drinking Everclear from a Big Gulp cup, then showed me my first porn film. I was 11. Three years later, my stepmom led me into the Logan Canyon woods and handed me a perspiring amber bottle. When I was sure I wasn't being entrapped, I chugged most of it, then let out a thunderous belch that echoed through the canyon. She drank the rest while we walked back to camp.

The following year, I mistakenly guzzled around 48 ounces of Smirnoff-spiked orange juice at my friend's 15th birthday party, hoping to extinguish a gut-fire set by his mom's delicious chile colorado. I wound up in Ruben's cousin's lowrider, singing along to Prince ("Raaaassssp-berry beret!"), then he showed me my second porn film ("Why are they biting each other and screaming?!" I wondered). The next day brought my first hangover—a doozy—and longest grounding.

Consequently, I abstained until my 21st birthday, when Doug Feeley, one of a trio of Baltimore-bred ski bums who taught me to party, poured my first pint from a pitcher at The Pie. Like such a noob, I proclaimed, repeatedly and loud enough for all to hear, "Doug, I'm drunk! I can't feel my face!"

Yeah. I remember my first beer. So do these folks.

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Lauren Lerch
Cellarwoman, Red Rock Brewing
Co-Blogger, CraftyBeerGirls.com
As cellarwoman at Red Rock Brewing, Lauren Lerch cares for the beer post-brewing. That, Lerch says via email, "includes dry hopping, moving the beer from [the] fermentor to [the] bright tank in the cold room, bottling, kegging and storing." Her first beer was Killian's Irish Red at Irelands 32 in Suffern, N.Y. Being newly 21 and the daughter and granddaughter of teetotalers, Lerch was "a bit wary of booze." The greenhorn thought Killian's tasted like "dirty pretzel water," so a friend ordered her a Wisconsin Lunch Box—Blue Moon mixed with orange juice, which was "a little better, but still strange." Obviously, given her profession—and the blog she shares with Jenni Shafer, Lerch didn't give up on beer. Over the next year or two, she got into ambers and pale ales, then stouts and porters. "I was absolutely disgusted with double IPAs for a long time," she says. "We're best friends now."

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Josh Anderson
Manager, Brewvies
I catch Josh Anderson just in time for his afternoon break. After signing for a keg delivery, he lights a cigarette, kicks back and tells his story. "My mom used to make us go to fuckin' Lake Powell every year, and we'd get a houseboat," he says. "I hated it." He soon changed his tune. "I was walkin' around on the beach with my buddy, and we found two fuckin' beers, still in a little six-pack thing in the fuckin' river ... you know what I mean, to stay cold and shit?" Anderson figures he and his friend were "only 8 or 9, and we were like, 'Cooool, dude!'" The cans of Miller Genuine Draft, he continues, were "all scratched and shit," like they'd been forgotten by fishermen. "We popped those open, dude, and fuckin' went to town. Killed 'em. Tasted like shit, but I kinda liked it, you know? And I've been a degenerate ever since."

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Kevin Crompton
Brewmaster, Epic Brewing
"Capt'n Crompton" started working at breweries in 1995, washing kegs. Now he's the brewmaster for one of Utah's most popular craft brewers. "My mom was from Uruguay, so, growing up, I was always allowed to have a glass of beer or wine with dinner," Crompton says, taking a late-afternoon break. He says his early exposure to alcohol, facilitated by his parents, taught him to consume it responsibly. So about that first taste? He reckons it was when he was 9 or 10, accompanying his father to the Mountain Man Rendezvous at Fort Bridger in Wyoming. "It was a PBR quart." Crompton didn't drink the whole thing; they shared it in a father-son bonding moment. To this day, Crompton still enjoys his Pabst Blue Ribbons. "Just because you're a brewmaster doesn't mean you have to be a snob about what you consume ... PBR is my mass-brewed beer of choice."

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Michael Saumure and Gdaadg
Assistant Manager and Store Dog, The Beer Nut
Taking a break from his paperwork at the local homebrewing supply store, Saumure shares his first beer memory. "[My father] used to salt his beer; he grew up in Eastern Canada, and it's a thing he used to do back there," he recalls. "I vividly remember him pouring himself a beer in a glass, then slowly putting the salt in." The reaction of the salt hitting the beer caused foam to tumble down the sides of the glass. "I always wanted to put the salt in for him because I liked the show." The first time Saumure saw a bartender pour a nitro-infused beer and watched the froth cascade down the glass, "it immediately reminded me of putting salt in my dad's beer."

Gdaadg, The Beer Nut's store dog, once "worked" at a brewery, where the pooch received "one shift beer" daily. His first beer was a porter.

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Mike Riedel
Blogger, UtahBeer.Blogspot.com
Prolific craft beer blogger Mike Riedel was only 4 or 5 when he started buggin' his father, an Olympia drinker, for swigs. Speaking with City Weekly at Miller Time, fresh from his day job as a photojournalist at Fox 13, Riedel says his father warned him. "He'd say, 'You won't like it!'" Undeterred, Riedel gave it a shot. "It was dry and bitter and awful," he says. He repeated the request-and-revulsion routine every couple of weeks, with the same result. At 14, "on a boring Saturday," Riedel and a friend pilfered a couple of MGD's from his buddy's father's beer fridge. Again underwhelmed, Riedel relished the forbidden fun. At 20 or 21, Michelob Dark made Riedel a believer. "It was like an adjunct, probably like a schwarzbier, a black lager, made with rice and dark malt," he says. "I thought, 'Huh ... It's actually got some flavor to it.' That was probably my gateway beer into looking at other craft brands."

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Jon Lee
Director of Brewing Operations, Utah Brewers' Cooperative (Squatters and Wasatch)
UtahBeers.com
Next March, UBC brewmaster Jon Lee celebrates two decades of brewing. "The early first beers I was drinkin' were Coors and Keystones," Lee says, relaxing on the bottle-bench outside the UBC storefront. "My dad is from Colorado, so ... I spent my time kinda cuttin' [my teeth] on your American domestics, primarily Coors." When craft brewing began to get popular, he tried Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale on a trip to northern California. "It was a barley-sweet, super rich, high-alcohol monster. It was quite a tasty brew, sitting there underneath a 150-foot pine tree in their front yard," he says. Lee doesn't recall his very first taste. "I was very young; I wasn't supposed to be drinking. I mean, I remember sneaking swigs when my dad went into the other room. Maybe he knew, and maybe he didn't."

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Mike Sartain
Singer-guitarist, Starmy, Starmy.Bandcamp.com Former Co-owner, The Urban Lounge
Once upon a time, Mama Sartain trusted her 15-year-old son to stay home by himself while she was out of town. "My friends and I procured some beer from some guy that was standing outside the, uh, Kwik-E-Mart or whatever the hell it was," Sartain says, shortly after returning—hungover—from a trip to Las Vegas. "And then we had a party." The 12-pack of "either Busch Light or Keystone" was enough to get them riled enough for the cops to show up. "We were just bein' crazy, kind of experiencing what alcohol does to you," Sartain says, "and feelin' dangerous." Usually, this is where parents are called and asses get whupped. Instead, the cops noticed the instruments owned by this band of delinquents who, aptly, called themselves "Rukkus." One of the cops was a drummer, and wanted to jam. "His partner wouldn't let him," Sartain says. "They just cleaned up the beer cans and left. That was kind of nice."

BEER WRESTLING
How a simple idea turned into a four-year slog that is not over yet.
By Colby Frazier

It's been four years since a couple of buddies and I sat down and began the extremely slow, arduous, painstaking and terrifying process of starting a brewery.

All of the obvious stuff has happened: We've encountered thousands of roadblocks and pitfalls, and we've managed to overcome a few of them—a modest, but monumental undertaking that has proven to be just enough to keep us going.

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I could fill every inch of space in this week's issue with the nitty-gritty details of putting our business plan together, raising money and jumping through legal hoops to secure our name, A. Fisher Brewing Co. Since I don't have that kind of space, in one massive paragraph I'll give you an overview of our model—the nuts and bolts behind our idea. Then I'll focus on a few key points that have been particularly interesting. They involve the acquisition of property, the altering of city laws and our eternal wrestling match with government regulations.

In Utah, there are largely two kinds of breweries. The first kind are brewpubs like Deseret Edge in Trolley Square, Wasatch Brewpub in Park City, Red Rock and Squatters, to name only a few. A key part of being a brewpub is the pub part, whereby hamburgers, fish and chips and other delicacies are cooked in a kitchen by chefs and delivered to your table by a server. It turns out that Steve, Tim, Tommy (my partners) and I, had never owned a restaurant, and didn't even want to own a restaurant, so we decided to not own a restaurant. The other kind of brewery is a distribution brewery, like Uinta (many Utah breweries that are brewpubs also distribute), which makes its beer in a massive warehouse on 1700 South, where it is placed in bottles, cans and kegs and shipped around the world. The world is a big place, and Steve, Tim, Tommy and I dig it right here, in Salt Lake City. So we decided to try something a bit different. We wrote a 43-page business plan outlining the way that a brewery could open that is not a brewpub and does not distribute its beer far and wide. Rather than packaging our beer, people would have to come to our brewery to drink beer. And rather than having a restaurant, we would have food trucks and taco carts.

This all sounds simple enough. But hidden within the text are theories, proclamations and estimations that need to be backed up by real numbers, industry data and a close examination of the area's breweries, the latter of which we all undertook with boozy zeal.

As we wrestled with our idea, a discovery was made. While the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) was totally cool with A. Fisher Brewing Co. operating a small brewery and locating a tavern on site to serve the beer, existing local laws would not permit it. Salt Lake City's definitions of what types of breweries could exist were antiquated and stifling.

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The city defined a "brewery" as an establishment that manufactured beer, heavy beer or malt liquor for off-site consumption. Two other types of breweries were allowed in Salt Lake City at the time: a brewpub and a microbrewery. Both of these establishments had one critical item in common, in that they required food sales to make up 50 percent of total sales. Essentially, if you wanted to be a brewery in Salt Lake, you either had to distribute all of your beer for off-site consumption, or jump into the restaurant business.

We pointed out this vagrancy to city planners, and a nearly year-long process unfurled. The end result was great for us and any future breweries in the city. Since the definition of microbrewery was more or less identical to a brewpub, it was dropped altogether. A new type of establishment known as a "small brewery" was created that would allow breweries that make less than 15,000 barrels of beer to operate a tavern on site.

WooHoo!

A Place to Work
With city laws now allowing us to exist, we began the process of trying to find a home. Knowing that up to a couple of hundred thousand dollars would have to be expended to install drains and upgrade electrical and gas utilities, buying a building was an enticing option. But buying requires even more money to be spent up front. And all of those same upgrades would have to be made whether we owned or leased.

To make a very long story short, we tried everything. For nearly one year, we negotiated with a property owner, drafting up architectural drawings and attempting to hammer out the details of a rent-to-own option. These efforts, though, fell apart. A second effort at another location unraveled in similar fashion, after much work and around six months of planning and trying to meet in the middle.

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After more real-estate wrangling than any of us cared to do, we finally hired a realtor, who swiftly noticed that a roughly 4,000 square foot auto shop at 320 W. 800 South had been sitting on the market for more than a year. The place was perfect, but for one massive detail: The city's new brewery laws came with limits, including regulations on where certain types of breweries could be located.

In the new zoning maps, there is a big blank spot in the city where any type of brewery can possibly exist if it obtains a conditional-use permit. At this location, this was necessary. We filed the needed paperwork, held a pair of community meetings that were largely void of any concern from the community, and that conditional-use permit was granted. The building was bought, and we began the next phase of this little adventure.

Regulations
In order to apply for a permit from the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), a prospective brewery owner must first have an address, an architectural drawing of the space and many other items specific to the location of the brewery. And today, with breweries opening their doors at a rapid rate across the country, the folks who work at the TTB are busy. The average wait time for a TTB permit is 150 days. Some folks wait less, some more. And there does not appear to be any logical reason for falling on the low or high end of this 150 day lag.

With a building, an architect, a contractor and the city's blessing, we put several massive wheels in motion: We ordered our brewhouse and fermenters, which, similar to the TTB, involves some pretty serious lead time. We then applied for our federal permit, and we commenced to hemorrhage cash on construction (new roof, grease trap, drains, bathrooms, a bar, etc., etc.—a process that is ongoing.

We had hoped to open by this summer, but the sunlight is already tilting toward fall. While we have our TTB permit in hand, we've only recently discovered that the UDABC won't permit us to file an application for our beer manufacturing and packaging agency license until Salt Lake City has issued us a business license. Salt Lake City won't issue a business license until our building permit is closed, which could be several more weeks. This has the potential to bump our opening even further back.

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These discoveries, jarring, disappointing and sometimes joyous, seem to be endless. At some point soon, we're going to start serving beer at our brewery—a place that isn't a restaurant and isn't a big distribution facility—minor details that, given the process, are miraculous. In between the germination of that idea four years ago and now, we've become moderate experts on zoning, city planning, jack hammering concrete, installing windows and making really expensive, and typically pretty sound, decisions.

If all of this discourages you from opening a brewery, or some other endeavor, don't let it. It's been a good time, and there has been some thick comedy and real-world realizations along the way. Every person sees and experiences things in this world a little bit differently. This is true when it comes to important topics like racism, Donald Trump and whether or not Cutthroat Pale Ale is better than Full Suspension Pale Ale.

It is also true when attempting to make any lasting decision at the brewery. What color paint in the bathrooms? Flush or waterless urinal? To grind or not grind the concrete? Imagine these scenarios played out a few hundred thousand times over every single detail imaginable. That's what you'll see when A. Fisher Brewing Co. returns to Salt Lake City sometime in ...

BEERTAILS TO TRY NOW
These poppy portmanteaus really pack a punch.
By Darby Doyle

Beertails. Hopsology. Brewtinis. Whatever you want to call 'em, some of the top spots in town for cocktails and nosh also feature drinks with one of our favorite ingredients any time of day: beer. Of course we're hopelessly hooked on hops straight-up in a glass as our benevolent deity of choice intended. But we can appreciate some creative tinkering when the mood strikes to shake things up a bit. Whether you're in the mood for savory, sassy or sweet, there's a refreshingly bubbly beer cocktail to suit your specifications right here in the 801. Here are some of our faves around town.

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Bodega
331 S. Main,
801-532-4042
Bodega331.com
The alcohol overachievers at Bodega/The Rest recently hosted an entire event featuring beer cocktails, all made with Uinta Brewing products aimed to raise funds for the Ales for ALS cause. Doing good deeds by imbibing? Always a win-win. All three of them were refreshing and delicious (hell yeah, I tried 'em all ... duh). But The Harriet ($9)—so named by bar manager Adam Albro after the cult classic So I Married an Axe Murderer—notably nails all the cool and refreshing notes of summer sipping: fresh crushed blueberries, two kinds of housemade bitters, lime and grapefruit juices, crème de cassis for a nice black currant note, bourbon (bourbon and beer were made to go in a cocktail together) and Uinta's German-style lager Fest Helles. "It's an almost perfect hair of the dog drink," says The Rest's sous chef and collaborative drinks developer, Ryan Santo. We emphatically agree, and would love to wake up to Harriet any day, though we'll not-so-patiently wait until the bar opens at 5 p.m.

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East Liberty Tap House
850 E. 900 South
801-441-2845
EastLibertyTapHouse.com
An afternoon spent sipping on ELTH's sunny patio and watching the wonderful wacky world of 9th & 9th go by always reminds us why we love SLC and her people so damn much. Add a beer cocktail or two concocted by owner Scott Evans to the mix, and we might never leave. Well, until the snow falls, then we'll gladly take our shivering asses into the tavern proper. Inspired by the bright and bitter (in the best possible way) notes of locally made Shades of Pale Brewing's truly phenomenal brew, the White IPA, Evans added local Beehive Jack Rabbit Gin to the party, along with orange and lime juices, sage bitters and fresh cilantro to create his Belgian Gin Spritz ($10). Big notes of orange peel and herb in the nose pair refreshingly with the gin's floral notes, and SOP's white IPA gooses the glass with a zing.

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Pig & A Jelly Jar
SLC and Ogden locations
PigAndaJellyJar.com
To round out your hearty lunch or late power breakfast of chicken and waffles, nothing quite fits the bill like proletariat Pabst Blue Ribbon, served un-ironically at Pig & A Jelly Jar in pint Mason jars. We're partial to P&JJ's southern spin on the classic bloody beer with a PBR Mary ($4.50), which they stir up with their just-spicy-enough housemade bloody mix and serve with a Cajun sea-salt rim and house-pickled green beans. Also hitting all of the savory buttons is their PBR-tini ($4.50) with a little pickle brine added to the PBR pint jar, an herb-salted rim and a strip of thick-cut bacon wrapped around a chunk of bleu cheese—all skewered with a steak-knife to keep that greasy goodness from unraveling. Food pyramid: Nailed that shit.

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Epic Annex
1048 E. 2100 South
801-742-5490
EpicBrewing.com
Leave it to the folks at Epic Brewing to take that roadie classic gin and juice, mix in a little salty dog-style summer sipping for further inspiration and take it up a notch or three by adding a hefty pour of their award-winning (for damn good reasons) Spiral Jetty IPA. Served with a sea-salted rim, the Great Salt Lake cocktail ($8) is packed with refreshing grapefruit juice and fragrant gin to give the bevvy a generous citrus base for all that hoppy IPA zip. Its fabulous paired with their hearty burgers, anything spicy or their hangover-friendly twist on that Canadian classic bit of gravy done good, poutine.

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Zest Kitchen & Bar
275 S. 200 West
801-433-0589
ZestSLC.com
(A 21+ establishment)
Zest is hitting all the summer lovin' buttons with their boozy spin on that bit of warm weather refreshment wizardry, the shandy. In this case, they pair fresh cold-pressed watermelon juice with vodka and Uinta Brewing Co.'s Sum'r Organic Ale, a citrusy American blonde ale eagerly awaited every spring and destined for coolers all over Utah. Zest's boozy and bright Watermelon Sum'r Shandy ($7) is available while the fruit is in season, and as early as 10 a.m. for weekend brunch (try it with their Southwest Skillet with quinoa and black beans; you'd never know it's vegan). Owner Casey Staker says, "We'll make it until the watermelon season is gone." In other words, hop to it while the farmers market melon pickings are still hot.

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Red Butte Café
1414 Foothill Drive
801-581-9498
TheRedButteCafe.com
"I just love our beers," says Red Butte Café bar manager Sam Fredrickson, who's been overseeing the Desert Edge Brewery taps at this Foothills local favorite for almost five years. "The Happy Valley Hefeweizen is a really terrific beer, and I wanted to highlight all of those bright summer flavors with a citrusy beer cocktail." The result? The Fleur D'Orange ($7.50), made with that heavenly hefe, Beehive Jack Rabbit Gin, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, orange bitters and orange juice, and housemade honey simple syrup. It's an affordable and approachable cocktail that goes equally well with a lighter-style salad for lunch, or with RBC's hearty brunch offerings like breakfast burritos or an eggs benny. Cheers!

BUZZED BY DESIGN
A label says a thousand words.
By Westin Porter

Good beers get you buzzed. Great beers are marvels in art and rhetorical savvy in every aspect from inception to consumption. For this week's Beer Issue, City Weekly pays tribute to six locally brewed masterpieces, crafted with the drinker in mind in every step of the process—from brewing to bottling.

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Outer Darkness, Squatters Brewery
Analysis: What does the complex brewing process of a 10.5 percent-by-volume imperial stout made and sold under the most scrutinous and confusing liquor laws in the country look like? I give you, Squatters' Outer Darkness. The beer boasts a complex combination of molasses, oak and licorice root, and, like the taste, the label leaves room for the drinker's imagination to wander.

The Bottom Line: Earning its name from the Mormon theology of hell, this beer is not for the amber ale faithful. The pair of flaming eyes framed in gold on a classic stout bottle is enough to make ol' Joe Smith himself both nervous and thirsty.

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Cutthroat Pale Ale, Uinta Brewing Co.
Analysis: Gaining inspiration from Utah's state fish, the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, Uinta Brewing Co. nailed the perfect label to characterize the unique yet simple taste of this piney IPA. The soft lines of Utah's fish chomping on a dry-fly, fore grounded by bold colors and fonts set the drinkers up for a flavor experience they'll keep coming back for.

The Bottom Line: Much like the beer it represents, this label captures everything all the best parts of a beer drinker's Utah: tradition, adventure and the divinity of high-altitude taste.

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The Devastator Double Bock, Wasatch Brewery
Analysis: The one-of-a-kind flavor profile of this rich, creamy and layered lager grabs drinkers by the hair of their noses and makes them throw back or throw down their bottles. And what better way to illustrate that kind of taste bud wallop than with the collage-like image of an apocalyptic Bighorn sheep bursting out of flames between Utah's state capitol and landmark LDS Temple?

The Bottom Line: If a beer label's job is to illustrate the taste of the beer it's labeling, then the artists at Wasatch had their work cut out for them in characterizing the smooth, strange flavor of Devastator Double Bock.

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Spiral Jetty, Epic Brewing Company
Analysis: This label perfectly captures the complex flavor of Epic's Spiral Jetty IPA. While the Jetty symbolizes tranquility and repose, the blood red refinery sunset over the harsh, salted earth captures the harmonious yet incongruous flavor profile that is five different hops over soft malt flavors.

The Bottom Line: Epic Brewing's clean and uniform branding of its beers lends a sense of belonging to its loyal drinkers—like Wes Anderson fans, who line up just to see the colors and subtle image arrangement.

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Johnny's American IPA, Moab Brewery
Analysis: Like Temple Square, the Mountain Skyline and Delicate Arch, Johnny's American IPA from Moab Brewery has become an iconic Utah symbol. Its simple red, white and blue ring logo foregrounding the old-timey movie title font is a classic and timeless image. It doesn't take much for this pale ale to win over beer lovers of every stripe.

The Bottom Line: Johnny's American IPA is simple and gritty; characteristics proudly touted by the townspeople of Moab from which this brew hails.

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Lake Effect, Proper Brewing Co.
Analysis: A statement in minimalism, Proper Brewing's Lake Effect Gose Ale tributes Randall Pink Floyd, "the legendary rogue flamingo that resided at the Great Salt Lake," per Proper's website. A soft, simple and almost overwhelming blue swallows up all but the profile of Randall, standing tall in his unlikely home.

The Bottom Line: What better way to pay tribute to the improbable story of a pink flamingo that made his home in the inhospitable waters of a salt desert, than with a gose ale flavored with coriander and salt? 

CANNED RESPONSES
The O.G. Provo Girl reflects on her past life as a beer missionary.
By Alex Springer

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For local beer enthusiasts, the St. Provo Girl ad campaign occupies a soft spot in the heart of Utah's brewing history. With the somber eyes of those who have loved and lost, they recall a TV spot that depicted this Norse goddess of a woman, clad in a low-cut dirndl with her golden hair done up in braids. Reclining on her side, she casually states "When I'm in the mood, I like to pop my top" before opening the locally brewed Provo Girl Pilsner. It's a thing of beauty.

A billboard followed, featuring the scantily clad beerbassador and the message "If you just said 'Oh my heck,' it's probably not for you." The tagline "Nice cans" evolved soon thereafter.

It's been 14 years since the St. Provo Girl broke hearts all over the world (or at least the Wasatch Front), and she's since returned to her given name of Alise Ingrid Liepnieks. She laughs over the phone as she reflects back on that commercial. "I was lying on a piece of plexiglass for eight hours—my ass was so sore the next day! But every time you see a beer getting popped open, I would drink it. We ended up popping quite a few of them, so I actually had to call a friend to come pick me up." Based on this experience alone, it's immediately obvious why she was so successful—St. Provo Girl is a survivor who spits in the face of convention, and, so is Liepnieks.

Almost two decades before Liepnieks took up the flaming red St. Provo Girl dirndl, our local landscape was devoid of breweries. When Greg Schirf moved here from Milwaukee in the early '80s, he found our lack of beer disturbing. So he followed the advice of Mahatma Gandhi and established Wasatch Brewery as a way to become the change he wanted to see. Schirf's mere existence as a brewer in a largely LDS state was enough to ruffle a few feathers, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that he decided to use that irreverent relationship as a way to sell more beer. After providing for a crowd that was thirsty for homebrewed suds, he correctly assumed that they'd feel alienated by the more religiously conservative members of their community. When Wasatch Brewery perfected their porter and pilsner recipes, Schirf had the idea to subvert the local religious culture and brand their new products as Polygamy Porter and St. Provo Girl Pilsner respectively.

Using these slight jabs at Mormon culture to sell a product that only non-Mormons were buying was enough to create an advertising phenomenon worthy of Don Draper. Polygamy Porter's name and slogan ("Why have just one?") made it a successful product in and of itself, but Schirf—who had already put up a billboard near church headquarters with the tagline "Baptize your taste buds"—wanted to capture something special with St. Provo Girl. Images of buxom Germanic blondes clutching frosty, overflowing beer steins sauntered through his head, but this wasn't a job for just another empty-headed model. Schirf needed someone that not only looked the part, but was the part. Where could he find such a rare human being?

At a bar, of course.

"It's a crazy story," Liepnieks says. "I used to be a competitive snowboarder, but I blew my knee out. I was working at a bar called The Cozy, and one of my regulars, a guy by the name of Kevin, played golf with Greg. Greg described the girl that he wanted for the campaign, and Kevin thought of me." Liepnieks came in for the audition, and everyone agreed that she was perfect for the part. "Initially, it was just supposed to be posing for a few pictures," she recalls. "I don't think me or Greg or anyone involved ever thought it would explode like it did."

Whether it was the result of Schirf's business savvy or simply an act of God, Wasatch Brewery had found the face of St. Provo Girl just in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. "The campaign gained some momentum on its own," Liepnieks says, "but the Olympics really catapulted it above and beyond." At the time, Utah was relatively new to the world of craft beer, but the rest of the world had been at it for time immemorial. The fact that this little brewery in Utah was paying homage to beer's German progenitors with St. Provo Girl became fascinating for the international audience that was watching the Olympics. "We ended up getting a lot of international press, but I was floored when it hit USA Today," Liepnieks says.

Even today, people get nostalgic about the time they met the St. Provo Girl, and were able to preserve the moment with an autographed poster. In a post on City Weekly's Facebook page, one former kitchen worker recalled his encounter with beer babe and the personalized message she emblazoned on his poster: "You can sautée my crabs any time."

Any large-scale campaign is going to get its share of criticism, and Liepnieks' run was no different. "People said some pretty nasty things about Greg and me," she recalls. "There were some articles that were published down in Provo that weren't very nice. There was one that said I was a paid prostitute."

Wasatch Brewery's international acclaim also drew the ire of the German brewers and distributors of St. Pauli Girl, who leveled a lawsuit against Schirf for alleged copyright infringement—which is why St. Provo Girl is now known as Provo Girl. "Greg just laughed it all off. He had a great attitude about it, which helped me out a lot," Liepnieks says.

Regardless of any controversies that arose during Liepnieks' run as the Provo Girl, it gave her two whirlwind years that she cherishes to this day. She got to co-host a radio show ("I only dropped the F-bomb once," she boasts), sign autographs, and even went onstage during a Rush concert. "Being up on stage and watching Neil Peart do his drum solo was the first time I was ever truly star struck," she reminisces.

After the wild ride as Provo Girl ended, Liepnieks spent some time traveling Europe and developing a talent for crochet beanies, which she sells on Amazon.

She currently lives in Oregon and is about eight months away from finishing her master's degree in public health. As we wrap up our phone conversation, I ask if she can sum up her experience as St. Provo Girl with just a few words, but I can tell it's a tough request. "It was truly amazing," she says, collecting her thoughts, "I felt lucky and blessed to be a part of it, and it was one of the best experiences that I've ever had." 

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