The Beer Issue | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

August 24, 2016 News » Cover Story

The Beer Issue 

The 7th Annual Utah Beer Festival Is Here!

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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
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
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)
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, 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."

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