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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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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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