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Eric Strader
Eric Strader
Eric Strader writes about the craft beer scene in Indiana and Michigan. He's a dad, husband, potter, soccer coach, special education paraprofessional, who likes to read, bike, hike, and canoe.

Scouting for unique beers on vacation in Utah

On a recent trip to Utah, beer blogger Eric Strader had the chance to check out the local beer scene. He got to try some tasty beers, including session ales in cans and bourbon barrel aged barley wines.

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.

Eric Strader writes about the craft beer scene in Indiana and Michigan. He’s a dad, husband, potter, soccer coach and special education paraprofessional who likes to read, bike, hike and canoe. You can read more from him in his community blog for The Elkhart Truth, Hop Notes

On our recent family trip to Utah, we returned north after enjoying some time in Moab. We spent the next few days in Tooele (about 30 miles from Salt Lake City), where we attended a family wedding. Salt Lake City is home to Epic Brewing Company, which is famous for Big Bad Baptist (imperial stout with cocoa nibs and coffee beans, aged in whiskey barrels, 11.8 percent ABV). You can find some of Epic’s beers in Michiana. Although I had really hoped to visit Epic before leaving the area, time did not allow.

Unita Brewing, which I am not that familiar with, is also located there. I had been told to look out for the brewery’s Birthday Suit sour farmhouse ale (which is its 21st anniversary beer, 7.4 percent ABV, IBUs 20), and I wish I had come across a bottle. Instead, I found a bottle of Cockeyed Cooper (bourbon barrel aged barely wine, 11.1 percent ABV, IBUs 65) at the State Liquor Store.

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This is what the label says: “Launch into the exquisite flavors of bourbon with splashes of vanilla. Watch for currents of dark chocolate and dried fruit. Generous amounts of hops and malts make for a smooth journey from start to finish.” This is a year-round offering, so not as rare, but the bottle date of 7-10-13 shows it has already been nicely aged (check out my recent post singing the praises of aged beer). I made a bold decision to wrap this 750 milliliter bottle in my dirty clothes and put it in my backpack to be checked for the flight home. It made it back safe and sound!

Locating good bottle shops can always prove to be challenging in unfamiliar towns. After being a bit disappointed by the selection at a State Liquor Store, I decided to solicit some local help. While purchasing an additional SD card for my camera, I asked the clerk where to find the largest selection of craft beer.

I was told Walmart.

Reluctantly, I forced myself to enter Walmart with the mission of finding local craft beer. When I found a disappointing selection (mostly big brewers I can purchase right here in Michiana, as well as anywhere else in the United States; a few bottles and cans from Moab Brewing, which I just came from; and a couple of choices from Wasatch Brewing, which I had also had on a previous occasion) I was reminded once again that to many people, beer beyond the macro brewers is unfamiliar. Somewhat happy that I didn’t have to spend any money at Walmart, I again headed back to the State Liquor Store.

Maybe it was the second look around, but there were actually some good choices of beer on the shelf – just not a lot that were new to me. A third brewery that had been recommended before the trip was Squatters Craft Beer. I grabbed a six pack of cans of Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale, which had a mountain bike on the label, and the standard Utah 4 percent ABV. It was a very nice session ale, and it was enjoyed and shared around the hotel and pool with family.

Two of my favorite West Coast breweries, Firestone Walker and Deschutes Brewing (not available in Michiana), were looking right back at me from the shelf at the State Liquor Store. I decided to get a bottle of Union Jack IPA and for good measure, another bottle of Moab Brewing Black Imperial IPA. Even though these breweries’ beer is not currently available in Michiana, I have received word from Deschutes Brewing that they are planning to launch distribution in Michigan this Fall, possibly in September. This is good news for those of us who enjoy Black Butte Porter, The Dissident and The Abyss. Unfortunately, limited releases such as the latter two, most likely will not be released in Michigan right away. Usually Deschutes launches in new markets with Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, one of their seasonals and another year-round (varies).

Back at the hotel, I found a bottle date on the Union Jack. The old bottle date on the Unita bottle was a good thing (being a barley wine). However, the old bottle date on this IPA was not so good. This made me realize that craft beer may not move very fast in this town. Even though it was three months old, it was still a tasty treat, and I just imaged how tasty it would have been if it had been really fresh.

Even though I was not able to explore Utah beer as much as I would have liked, it is always great to get a taste of beer from different parts of the country. Even though many of the bigger breweries are moving toward national distribution, there are, and probably always will be, many smaller breweries that will only be available locally. So as I like to say: Travel global, drink local.

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