I like beer, so my travels frequently find me seeking out places that make great beer. Luckily, I live in a state where some passionate people built local breweries that make craft beer. And while there is still lingering suspicions of bizarre liquor laws in Utah, recent changes to the laws have made it a non-issue. The membership requirement to enter bars that many people reference was removed in 2009. More info on the laws can be found here; but trust me, you can stroll into a bar and order a drink seven days a week.
In order to convince you to come to Utah for a reason other than the best skiing in the world and our five stunning National Parks, I decided to highlight what is happening in the local craft beer scene in Utah through one of my recent day trips.
The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade association of American craft brewers defines craft brewing as "small and independent" with annual production of "6 million barrels of beer or less." They also added that no more than 25 percent of the brewery can be owned or controlled by a beverage industry member who is not also a craft brewer. According to beerinfo.com, the term "craft beer" is beer that is made using traditional methods with consideration for flavor over mass appeal.
My quest for craft beer started with the Uinta Brewery. Situated on the west side of Salt Lake City, it is one of the only locally owned and operated breweries in Utah. Founded in 1993, 2013 marks the brewery's 20th anniversary. According to their sales literature the company is "named after the only major East-West running mountain range in the Continental U.S." Uinta attends beer festivals across the country in different cities, states and ski towns. They have won numerous awards, including nine in 2012, according to their web site. Tough job, but somebody has to pour those samples.
Many thanks go to Jamie Horton, the account manager who arranged our tour. I was introduced to Jamie through my boyfriend Jim, who has an ongoing love affair with craft beer. We ran into Jamie at several festivals during the year and each time I would mentioned wanting to know more about the brewery. So she met us in their Brewhouse Pub for a private tour. We arrived early with the intention to eat lunch and sample the product before the tour -- it would seem wrong not to do so.
At the start of the tour, Jamie told us they consider themselves craft brewers and that it is currently the only growth category in the beer industry. A Brewers Association report confirms this, stating a 2011 growth rate for craft brewers of 13 percent by volume and 12 percent in the first half of 2012. In comparison, the overall beer industry declined by 1.3 percent.
Uinta's sales in 2012 will exceed 2011 by 60 percent. In 2012 they produced 45,000 barrels of beer. It may seem like a lot, but in comparison, Coors Beer produces just over 20 million barrels a year. Sixty percent of Uinta's beer is sold in Utah, and the rest is distributed to 22 other states.
Jamie surmised that in addition to award winning craft beer, part of their growth is directly attributable to new packaging, a proprietary bottle with a unique shape and new, very hip labeling. One of the aspects of the new bottle is an embossed compass circling the bottle. According to Lindsay Berk, Uinta's marketing manager, "the symbolism of a compass just felt right and fitting, and thus became part of our logo and our proprietary bottle." She added that part of what it evokes is the company's sense of direction and focus on brewing quality, consistent beers. Another interpretation is related to their sense of adventure and exploration, both inside and outside the brewery.
I invited two of my co-workers to tag along on the tour because I knew they would appreciate the opportunity. And I was right. While touring the brewery they were in awe of the mash tuns, brew kettles and fermentation tanks. If you don't know what any of these things are, run, don't walk to your closest brewery that offers a tour -- it is fascinating. My favorite parts were the bottling and kegging stations. During our tour they were in full swing and we dodged forklifts and boxes flying down the line as we gaped at the vast quantities of beer.
After 20 years, Uinta's beer is still creative and inventive. My personal favorite is the Yard Sale Winter Lager. Although I'm not a copious beer drinker, I love the stuff. More importantly I love the craft beer culture. The gleam in the eyes of the guys who came with me reminded me how much beer drinkers love beer. The people at Uinta Brewing genuinely love what they do and the joy it provides. If you have the chance to visit our great state, stop by and say hello. Raise your glass of Yard Sale and toast the craft beer culture.
Have you ever thought about taking a trip just to visit a craft brewery?
Maile Keone is an entrepreneur, writer and traveler. She currently works in the vacation rental industry helping people stay in cool places.