Utah Beer Festival 2021: Right Event, Right Time

Utah Beer Festival 2021 | SaltFire Tent Featured | Utah Beer News

The right event at the right place at the right time. The 11th Utah Beer Festival is exactly what the festival-starved craft beer community needed. Returning after an unplanned and unwelcomed hiatus in 2020, Utah’s largest beer-sampling event delivered as promised.

Salt Lake City Weekly first brought craft beer to the Utah masses with the inaugural fest in 2010. Its 11th iteration — held Aug. 21-22 at The Gateway after a coronavirus-induced postponement in 2020 — went down as easy as a crisp craft lager.

Utah Beer Festival: Best Of

In the spirit of Salt Lake City Weekly and its popular Best of Utah issue, here are a few standouts that caught my eye.

Disclaimer: I sampled only a portion of the 200+ beers available at the festival. And I no doubt missed out on a lot over the course of the two-day event, including much of the music (sadly).

So. Much. Happening.

What other beer festival features cotton candy, an on-site barber, and Social Axe Throwing in addition to 65+ tents slinging beer, cider, hard seltzer, and canned cocktails?

Nevertheless, my well-punched passport is witness to a fruitful weekend.

To learn more about all that was on tap at the two-day event, check out our Virtual Taproom episode.

Most Interesting Pour (General Area)

The Salt N Pickle from Kiitos Brewing tickled the tastebuds. It left me wanting another sample or two.

Most Interesting Pour (VIP)

Why not kick off a weekend of beer sampling with an 18%(!) ABV pour? The first bottles cracked at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the VIP Area were Fruit-Full Fort Strong Ale from Dogfish Head. Aside from the hefty ABV, the berry-driven, fortified wine-like pour proved to be delicious. It definitely got things rolling.

Most Elaborate Beer Tent

For my money, you can’t go wrong with a two-story, Wild West saloon-themed setup (it even has its own Instagram). Well done, SaltFire Brewing.

Tastiest Pour (General Area)

Abbey Ale from Brewery Ommegang earns my “favorite sample of the festival in the general admission area.” Fellow beer-scribe Mikey (Utah Beer Blog) sang the praises of a special release of Maximus IPA (Colossal, perhaps?) from Lagunitas Brewing. It ran a close second for me.

Tastiest Pour (VIP)

A 2018 W00t Stout from Stone Brewing sent me to a special place.

Neatest Non-Beer Tent

Shout-out to James Weed, founder of Solstice Malt, for setting up shop at the Utah Beer Festival. We’re lucky to have a craft maltster in our midst and it was cool to taste some real-life “mild malt.”

Neatest Non-Beer Room

The Utah Beer Festival featured several “activations” at various buildings throughout The Gateway. The Salt Lake Barber Co. set up and offered haircuts. Festival-goers took a seat and grabbed a trim while sipping a sample.

Best Theme Idea

Beers of the World. I knew going in this would be a go-to spot. A lineup of imported beers from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere earned several of my passport punches.

Additional Odds and Ends

VIP Area

In the past, I’ve been somewhat critical of the VIP Area. Not this year. A new, more relaxed pop-in, pop-out format (as opposed to structured food/beer pairings on the hour) served the area well. A central chef oversaw the bites, which mimicked a several-course meal (appetizers, larger bites, dessert, etc.). Two beers accompanied each course.

And a key takeaway here: The beer offerings were outstanding. Regional beers — hard-to-find and some vintages — dominated Saturday. Local brands (including Proper Brewing’s Brunch Beer and RoHa’s Gemini Hard Seltzer) took a turn on Sunday.

Crowds were manageable. John Saltas, the publisher of City Weekly, mingled and ensured guests were enjoying themselves. Volunteers pouring the beers were energetic and friendly.

One minuscule quibble, if I may: A Cicerone on-hand to share a few notes about each beer (or even some notes written ahead of time) would have sent it over the top.

But that’s minor. Just a fantastic experience all around inside the VIP area (A/C and private bathrooms didn’t hurt, either).


Beer drinkers I casually chatted up seemed split on whether The Gateway proved to be a better locale than The Utah State Fairpark (where the Utah Beer Festival had been held for a handful of years prior).

For me, I’m Team Gateway. The downtown urban setting provided the vibes I sought. The main drag — Rio Grande Street — got a little crowded toward the end of Saturday but it didn’t feel crushing. Kids and dogs frolicked at the all-ages event (wristbands for 21+ beer drinkers).

I overheard a gripe or two about lines getting unruly toward the end of Day 1 (right before the skies opened up, unleashing a torrential downpour).

But I didn’t experience that. I rarely stood behind more than 3-4 people max to get served a sample. And the low-tech punch-a-passport token system (required due to Utah laws) kept things moving.

Final Thought

In my experience, the 11th Utah Beer Festival just felt like a festival should feel. And, above all, I think that’s what many attendees were seeking after a two-year break.