While Utah Beer is snatching up awards in blind taste test competitions all around the country, critics still claim Utah's beers are "watered down" due to alcohol restrictions.
According to the Brewers Association, Utah is ranked 23rd in the U.S for breweries per capita. Yet a list of the top 50 breweries released last month didn't include a single Utah brewery. This doesn't make much sense considering Utah's breweries proven 10 year track record in taking national awards. Judged by the awards alone Utah should be seen as a true beervana,liquor laws and 3.2 alcohol restriction reputation cause critics to have little faith.
In recent years Utah micro-brews have dominated in competitions (View the NABA award list here). Utah brews such as Bohemian Brewery's Cherny Boch and Czech Pilsner, Red Rock's Polygamy Porter and Bobsled Brown plus Squatter's IPA India Pale Ale are among only a few of Utah's award-winning brews.
How have Utah's beers become so great? It turns out one side-effect of residing in a state that is shunned by the larger beer community is the brewers of Utah have banned together to actually help each other improve. "We all get together at least once a month. We share receipes and ideas. We all hang out together at the conventions. We are all good friends, " said Bobby Jackson of Bohemian Brewery.
Still, despite the awards, out-of-state beer enthusiasts love to label Utah brews as "weak," "watered down," or "flavorless." On the popular website Beer Advocate, users are able to share news and reviews about the latest brews. Here's what a few bloggers said about Uinta's King Peaks Porter:
Hops are slightly bitter. Kind of thin tasting. Mouthfeel is a little thin. Finish is clean and crisp. Aftertaste is bitter coffee and a hint metallic.
As with many of these 4% Utah beers, I feel this is a bit over-carbonated. Not bad...I'll drink it. But it's not worth spending a night on.
King's Peak Porter --the same beer that is being bashed in the comments above-- actually won a gold medal in the black beer section of the North American Brewer's Association (NABA) blind taste test competition. Local brewers say the negative conclusions about Utah beer are made out of ignorance and not experience.
Jeff Fischer was a former brewer for Bohemian Brewery and now distributes ingredients to all the local brew pubs for Crosby and Baker Ltd. From the way Fischer can put down a Bohemian Cherny Boch stein in about 90 seconds-- all while describing it's unique characteristics-- he is an obvious Utah beer connoisseur. Fischer just happened to be around for our taping of Bohemian Brewerie's segment.
"They just don't know. It's a misconception," said Fischer "I've literally given Utah beer to people, and if you don't tell them that it's from Utah. They love it. They think it's a wonderful beer."
It's no news flash that the out-of-state misconceptions about Utah beer has to do with the state's dominant Mormon culture (which forbids drinking), and Utah's strict liquor laws. Currently, Utah draft beers are restricted to 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent by volume. Utah is only one of four states that require beer to be brewed at these alcohol levels (Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas are the others).
But a Deseret News article shows that the weakness of Utah beer is greatly exaggerated. Staff Writer Josh Loftin discovered that most big beer names such as Guinness, Budweiser, Coors and Miller brew their beers at levels that are just barely above the 3.2 mark. (Read full article here)
3.2 may be the lowest level in the nation, but it's not as absurd as most critics think. "If you look around the world, places like Germany, Czech Republic or England, which are the three big beer consumers, most of their beer is brewed between 3.5 and 4.5 percent," said Fischer
Many local brewers believe that the liquor laws force them for focus more on flavor, rather than relying on alcohol content. Squatters Pub Brewmaster Jenny Yohe says people who brew at higher alcohol levels can drown out flavor with alcohol. If the Utah laws changed, Yohe says she "wouldn't add more alcohol to many of her beers." However, she says she would be able to educate Utahns about other types of brews.
"We have to compete against every other beer in the world, in that category," said Fischer. "We don't have a buffer of having higher alcohol, so we have to compensate it with great taste. It makes our brewers better."
Utah's international brewing awards may be one of the best kept secrets in the macro-brew industry. Many Utahns don't know about the success of Utah brews because a majority of Utahns don't drink. Many out-of-state beer enthusiasts don't realize the quality because they judge before they taste. But whether you drink or not, make no doubt about it: Utah brewers know how to make a beer.