Since I can’t travel to Utah right now, I sampled 12 Utah-brewed beers. Pam LeBlanc photo
I’m been making good use of my pandemic-induced time at home by educating myself through online classes here at home.
So far I’ve studied chocolate, whiskey and cheese. Most recently, I dug into beer.
Besides learning that beer is best tasted in tulip-shaped glasses, because the tapered shape traps the aroma, and hence some of the flavor, I discovered that a lot of the fruit flavors that you taste in beer actually come from the hops or other non-fruity ingredients. Also, it turns out that I like hoppy beer more than I thought I did.
I eagerly ripped into my class materials – a carton containing 12 different craft-made beers brewed in Utah. I found a giant gold can, some big glass bottles, a pink can decorated with a volcano and a flamingo, and lots more.
Per the instructions in my class prospectus, I prepared for the evening session by chilling my beer, setting out some palate-cleansing snacks, and gathering a collection of tapered glasses. (Pint glasses trace their roots to England, and became popular because they’re durable, cheap and stack well.)
Beer professor Rio Connelly, who helped open Epic Brewery in Utah and then built up the Proper brand, guided us through a sampling of five of the beers. The others we’d try on our own, later.
Tasting, he told us via a Zoom call, is all about appreciation. It should also be done, generally, from least impact (like a lager or light beer) to most impact (like a stout.)
More than 8,000 breweries now operate in Utah.
With that, in mind we set out to pour and appreciate some of our stash.
FISHER: The big gold can with a red label reminded me of the Schlitz my dad drank when I was a kid. A label on the back read “Sparkle brewed to the altitude.” When I poured it into a glass, it looked like champagne. Think of Fisher as the craft beer version of a domestic lager, with an extra poof of flavor. It’s crisp, clean and somewhat boring – but also something of a religion in Utah, where you’re likely to spot folks walking around in Fisher hats and Tshirts.
“It makes me want to mow the grass,” my husband Chris said. (Yes, I shared.)
UINTA CUT THROAT PALE ALE: Uinta is the largest brewery in Utah, and this pale ale is packaged in an amber-colored glass bottle. (The stigma of cans is largely gone; today you can buy most craft beer in cans.) When I poured it into a clear glass, I discovered it’s the color of the grass in my front lawn in August. It tastes vaguely like caramel and toasted bread, with a slap of pine trees and herbs. Nice. Locals call it simply “Cutty,” and subscribe to the motto “Forget the map, pack the Uinta.” It gets its name from the Bonneville cutthroat trout, the state fish of Utah. I’d definitely drink this while fishing.
UTAH SAGE SAISON: Now we’re talking. I love Belgian-style beer, and this 7.3-percent alcohol version from Epic Brewing wowed my taste buds with hints of mint and eucalyptus. I liked the cooling effect. “Saison” refers to a subset of yeast pioneered in Belgium and northern France. It’s more rustic and flavorful than other yeasts, with herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary. I could sit in a barn all afternoon and sip the stuff.
LEI EFFECT BY PROPER: A wayward flamingo nicknamed Pink Floyd that lived for a decade near Salt Lake City inspired the design on the pink can. When we opened it, Chris noted that it “smells like a fart.” That’s from the Sulphur, and don’t worry, it fades pretty quickly. What’s left is a slightly tropical-flavored gose ale (a wheat beer that’s high in salinity) made with real passionfruit and guava, plus pink salt mined locally in Utah. Let’s go bird watching!
FEELIN’ HAZY BY 2 ROW BREWERY: I generally steer clear of double India pale ales, which tend to taste harsh to me, but this one was delicious! The not-at-all bitter brew went down smooth and citrusy, with a waft of (weirdly) bananas. It tastes juicy, but there’s no fruit in it, just grain and hops. Pour me another, please. This was my favorite.
That’s instructor Rio Connelly, who led an online class on Utah craft beer. Pam LeBlanc photo
That’s all we tasted in class, but for homework over the next week or two, Chris and I sampled the others. Here are some thoughts:
FROLICH PILSNER FROM RED ROCK BREWERY: Hoppy but balanced; inspired by German pilsners.
HELLES BOCK FROM BOHEMIAN BREWERY: Stronger and malt-forward; a traditional, full-bodied, lightly sweet beer.
PROPER BEER FROM PROPER BREWING CO.: This is Proper’s flagship brew. Easy drinking and middle of the road – not too malty, not to hoppy, not too sweet, not too bitter.
ROCKET BIKE LAGER FROM MOAB BREWERY: An example of a “steam” beer, an American style that started during the California gold rush because the refrigeration required to brew traditional lager beer was readily available.
COFFEE CREAM ALE FROM KITOS BREWING: Made with local coffee blended into a light cream ale. Not as heavy as it sounds.
ESCAPE TO COLORADO IPA FROM EPIC: The name pokes fun at the brewery’s decision to open another brewery in Denver to escape some of Utah’s regulations. Fresh, with hints of citrus, pine and stone fruit.
DELMAR FROM TEMPLIN FAMILY BREWING: This Imperial stout gets super high marks from Connelly, who describes it as “one of the best stouts he’s ever tasted. At 11.5 percent alcohol, it packs a punch.