Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag issue #159, published in October 2011. Words and photos by Tyler Hoecker.
In Utah, beer makers have a bit of an uphill climb to bring their product to market. One hundred and fifteen years of conservative sentiment in the state has resulted in a strict set of laws concerning the sale of what the rest of us call plain old beer. Here in Utah it’s “heavy beer” and it might as well be a bottle of whiskey. New to the state and its sober ways, I ventured to root out the best of the heretic brewers.
A handful of microbreweries have set out into this hostile policy environment and are not only making a business out of it, they’re making great beers too. Two breweries from Salt Lake City rise to the top: Epic, founded in 2008, and Uinta, founded in 1993, are putting great care and style into producing light, heavy and everything in between.
While many Utah brews have followed the hop-happy trend as well as anybody, I like something that can refresh me on a hot afternoon without leaving me too puckered. My two picks are both mild on hops and accompanying bitterness, but pack flavor and uniqueness nonetheless.
The Uinta Cockeyed Cooper is a certified organic barley wine ale, aged in bourbon casks. Cockeyed Cooper explodes with sweet and buttery deliciousness. Vanilla and cherry are in your face before you even take a sip. Uinta recommends savoring this beer with old cheese or fancy desserts. I say skip the nonsense and enjoy this delicacy on its own. Never has so much alcohol been so well concealed and at 11.1 percent ABV you’d better mind your p’s and q’s when you drink this one. The Cooper is a beautiful dark brown, really too drinkable, and complex without sitting too heavy. Keep your eyes out for this, because it’s a special treat.
The Cross Fever from Epic was, apparently, brewed with cyclists in mind. The makers are self-proclaimed “beer geeks, foodies and epic adventure junkies,” and with this beer as testament, I’ll take them at their word. It is still mild on hops, like the Cooper, but with just enough edge to keep things interesting. I enjoyed mine right from the bottle, but it pours a deep brown amber with a smooth, light head. At 4.8 percent ABV this beer represents Utah’s tendency toward mild beers, but manages to stay smooth without tasting wimpy or watered down. I found the hearty malt base did well in supporting the almost too subtle hops. This beer would find good company with a burger. One of Epic’s “classic” (read: cheapest) beers, the Fever turned out like a good ‘cross bike: versatile and dialed in.