Billed as “the largest beer event in Utah,” the 9th Annual Utah Beer Festival drew 50+ breweries and thousands of beer drinkers. More than 200 different beers (and a handful of ciders) quenched thirsts at the two-day event held at the Utah State FairPark.
“It’s a great way to bring people and communities together,” says Ken Rivera, CEO of Shades Brewing. “We’re all doing these things independently but we’re much stronger and more efficient together. We have a great community and it’s a nice way to come together and share in something we all enjoy and take pride in.”
Below are a few takeaways, if you will, from my time at the Utah Beer Festival, which was presented by Salt Lake City Weekly.
Let’s start with the standouts for me:
Lime Gose (Red Rock Brewing Co.)
I started with this beer both days. It’s crisp, refreshing, and perfectly salty-sour. Plus, it gave me a chance to visit with Mike the Janitor, who pours a mean Space Force-approved five-ounce taster.
Berliner Weisse Plum (Shades Brewing)
This is quickly becoming a beer I’ll seek out. Shades continues to do good work in the sour-beer realm, but this is a favorite for me.
Piney Brown (A. Fisher Brewing Co.)
A delightful blend of hops — Cascade, Falconer’s Flight, Centennial, according to Fisher — and a sufficient malt backbone. A fresh 4% brown with piney aromas/flavors.
Saloon Lager (Western Standard)
A 5.2% ABV lager aged for a month in High West Distillery whiskey barrels. It poured darker than a typical light lager and offered smooth, caramel-y aromas/flavors.
Western Standard is a product of Constellation Brands, whose portfolio includes Corona and Ballast Point. It acquired High West in 2016. Yes, it’s “Big Beer” beer, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty.
Utah Beer Festival News & Notes
The Utah Beer Festival capitalized on the vast real estate afforded to it at the Utah State FairPark. While thousands of people attended each day, the festival, now in its third year at the expansive fairgrounds, offered plenty of elbow room.
Outside, beer tents were spaced sufficiently and shaded areas with high-top tables provided a place to chat over a mini-mug of beer.
More than 15 food options were available, while live music filled the air and cornhole games a-plenty contributed to the festive atmosphere.
Inside the Grand Building’s “Cider House,” you could sample a handful of ciders (though, interestingly, Mountain West Hard Cider set up shop outside next to real-life neighbor Red Rock Brewing).
While in the Cider House, I tasted White Claw Black Cherry, a crystal-clear hard seltzer. A little too much Shasta-like cherry flavor for me, but I can see its appeal.
Also inside the Grand Building, a variety of booths and activities gave beer drinkers a chance to take a break from the heat (which actually wasn’t too bad this year).
Read more about additional Utah Beer Festival offerings.
Overall, the 9th Annual Utah Beer Festival delivered as advertised. We as Utahns are fortunate to have an annual beer festival of this size. Yet, as with any event, there’s room for improvement.
Here are a few hits and misses from my experience:
HIT: Cashless System
Sure, it’s a little clunky pre-fest (swapping a ticket, setting up an online account, loading funds, etc.). But when the Big Day arrives, if you’ve done everything properly, it’s smooth sailing once inside the festival.
Considering Utah likely will never employ an all-inclusive format as is common at other beer festivals, this is a great way to limit time spent in beer (and food) lines.
MISS: VIP Lounge
I thoroughly enjoyed the VIP Lounge experience in 2017. Highlights a year ago included well-thought-out food and beer pairings, as well as brewer panels talking about beer.
I understand some unforeseen circumstances threw a wrench or two in the offerings this year (specifically regarding the brewer panels, which I really hope return next year).
But it seemed more attention could have been paid to the “pairings” concept. For instance:
- Connecting the food and beer lines instead of implementing a separate line for beer and another to pick up the matching plate.
- Providing additional information about the beers (Name of beer? Why the pairing?) would have been helpful.
That said, I enjoyed the prepared dishes and the accompanying beers (though a local Mexican-style lager — rather than Corona Extra — would have been a better match for Rico Cocina Y Tequila Bar’s delicious pollo rebosado en salsa de cacahuate — chicken-in-peanut-sauce — dish).
HIT: Press Backers
Proceeds from the 2018 Utah Beer Festival went to support local journalism. It’s an important cause, especially now.
Spearheaded by Press Backers, Salt Lake City Weekly’s non-profit, representatives from a variety of news outlets set up booths to help educate festival-goers on the importance of a free and independent press.
“Our goal is to inspire journalism students to foster their craft through internship opportunities and financial scholarships,” organizers said.
HIT/MISS: Brewer Presence
A favorite part of beer festivals for me is the ability to talk to brewers about their craft. The majority of tents I visited were staffed by pourers familiar with the beers they were pouring, making them a “hit.” It provides a much richer experience if you’re able to get answers to questions or to receive additional details about what went into a particular brew.
I understand it’s not possible for every brewery (especially those out of state) to send in-house reps in addition to their kegs, but it sure makes the experience more enjoyable if they do. A “miss” for those who relied solely on volunteer pourers.
HIT: Utah Brewers Guild Visibility
I had a chance to briefly chat with folks at the Utah Brewers Guild about issues related to Utah craft beer.
“Founded to provide a unified voice for Utah craft breweries and to help promote and educate its members and the local community regarding craft beer and the craft beer industry,” the group is becoming more visible and organized, which is exciting to see.
MISS: Ultra-Limited Pours
Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing Company drew crowds each day at 4:20 p.m. for its much-hyped Cherry Jane sour (get it? 4:20?). It sold out in 13 minutes on Day 1 and in less than 10 minutes on Day 2.
A representative announced at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday to those in line that we were out of luck, as the brewery brought only three cases to pour — 1.5 each day.
I understand the idea of limited release, but when you’re pouring for an event that’s expecting thousands of attendees, it makes sense to bring more than a few bottles. It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth.
How About You?
Did you attend the Utah Beer Festival? Was there anything that you absolutely loved (or didn’t)? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.