I love Utah!
From snow-capped mountains in the north to slick-rock desert canyons in the south, it is a natural wonderland of truly extraordinary beauty. I visit the southern, high desert every year. If I don’t get my annual Utah fix I get all itchy in my soul. There is nothing more spiritually regenerating than being alone in the absolute silence of a canyon watching the bright blaze of oranges and reds as the rocks light up at sunset. I would move out there if I could come up with a way to make a living that I think I would actually enjoy.
What many people don’t realize is that there is actually a pretty decent craft beer scene in Utah. Salt Lake City is home to 18 breweries, including Squatters, Epic, Bohemian, Wasatch, and the oldest, Uinta. There are a number of others spread around the state for a total of 30-plus. As the headline on the Utah Beer Blog states, “We may live in a desert, but we’re not dry.”
There is a misconception about Utah beer that deserves clearing up. The belief is that brewers in the state can only make the dreaded “3.2 beer.” The first thing to tackle here is exactly what that means. There are two ways to measure alcohol content – by weight and by volume. The two are not equivalent. For whatever reason most state regulators measure alcohol by weight. The rest of us talk about alcohol by volume. 3.2% alcohol by weight translates to approximately 4% alcohol by volume – about the same as many American lagers or Guinness Draught Stout. The English and the Scots have been making full-flavored ales, bitters, browns, and stouts at 4% ABV and much lower for a very long time. The fact is that sessionable, low-alcohol beers don’t have to be flavorless.
The second piece of this common belief is that Utah brewers are not restricted to 4% alcohol. Draft beers have to be 4% or less. They can put whatever they want into a bottle. There are plenty of good IPAs, double IPAs, and even barleywines being made in the Beehive State.
I like to drink local when I travel. So when I make my annual western trek, I drink a lot of Utah beer. I have very seldom been disappointed, even by the low-alcohol offerings. A 4% beer tastes pretty damn good after spending an entire day hiking in the dry, desert air. One of my favorites has always been Uinta Brewing Company. Pretty much everything I have tasted of theirs – from small beers to big – has been tasty and satisfying. So I was pretty psyched to learn that this brewery is entering the Twin Cities market this week. The beers being launched here should put the 4% myth to rest. They include a 9.2% alcohol Imperial Black IPA and a 9.5% Double IPA!
We actually had Uinta beers in the Twin Cities for a very brief time several years ago. Co-owner Steve Kuftinic has relations here and brought the occasional case with him when he would he would visit. It’s good to see them back. There is a launch event this Wednesday at Mackenzie’s Pub if you want to check them out.
I sampled a few brews prior to the launch. Just to make sure they were up to snuff, you know.
Here’s my notes:
Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah
Style: Extra Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
Aroma: Aromatics are low overall. Bright and delicate citrus hops – lemon. Some floral notes. Sweet malt beneath, with some biscuit notes. Low esters – pineapple. Some English-like butter.
Appearance: Deep gold with a slight haze. Moderate, dense, white foam with good retention.
Flavor: Very light and delicate – almost thin. Bitterness is the focus. Initial bitterness gives way to sweetness and fruit, coming back to bitterness at the end. Malt is very low – light sweetness with a biscuity, grainy character. Hop flavors reflect aroma – citrus, lemon, oranges, some floral. Low esters – pineapple. Faint butter. Tannic, tea-like drying in the finish.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency.
Overall Impression: An English bitter profile with American hop flavor and aromas. Sessionable and summery. Grainy, biscuit malt supports impressive, yet smooth bitterness for such a small beer. Hops are what it’s all about, but not overly aggressively.
Baba Black Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
Aroma: Aromatics generally low, but malt dominated. Subtle roast malt – coffee and faint cocoa. Bread crust. Very low spicy, noble hops.
Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly opaque black. Full, creamy, beige head with good retention.
Flavor: Malt dominated. Leads with cocoa and roasted malt bitterness. Midway some creamy, bittersweet chocolate comes in, giving an impression of increased sweetness. Other malt notes of bread crust. Low citrus/spice noble hop flavor. Hop bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry, accentuated by dry, roasted malt – coffee grounds and lightly burnt acrid.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low roast malt astringency.
Overall Impression: A really nice, if a bit roasty version of a German-style, black lager. Made with organic barley and hops. I would drink a lot of this. Actually, I have.
Style: Imperial Black IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
Aroma: Roast and resin. Chocolate and cocoa malt. Resinous citrus/pine hops. Oranges. Grapefruit rind.
Appearance: Very dark brown – nearly opaque black. Clear. Thick, creamy, tan head with good retention.
Flavor: Malt and hops in balance. Rich. Malt character is strong – chocolate roast. Medium sweetness balanced by high and long-lingering hop bitterness, which is accentuated by bitterness from roasted malt. Same resin and citrus hop flavor as in the aroma. High orange and grapefruit pith notes contrast the chocolate. Alcohol is apparent – a touch hot. Finish is off-dry. Very low acrid black malt notes add dryness.
Mouthfeel: Creamy. Full body. Medium carbonation. Medium alcohol warming.
Overall Impression: Big, black, bold, and bitter. The chocolaty malt plays a large role here, giving it a pleasing, creamy richness. Contrasting citrus makes is like a flavored chocolate bar. The only real distraction is a bit of booziness from the alcohol.