This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Friday, June 15, 2012

State #12: Utah

Beer: Polygamy Porter

Brewery: Wasatch Beers (Utah Brewers Cooperative), Salt Lake City, Utah

ABV: 4.0%

A delicious sundowner at our campsite at Zion National Park. Tastes great in a re-used jam jar, too.
After leaving Nevada, it was on to Utah, where they have a slightly different attitude about beer than they do in Vegas. Just like Islam, Mormonism bans the consumption of alcohol by its adherents. Just as Lebanon has a Muslim majority, the state of Utah has a Mormon majority. Also like Lebanon, Utah has sizeable minority whose religion does not demand teetotalism, and—surprise!—these folks enjoy beer. So, contrary to popular belief, it is not impossible to get schnackered in the Beehive State.

Wasatch Beers was founded in the ski resort of Park City, but now brews together with Squatters Beers as the Utah Brewers Cooperative in SLC.
The Mormon influence on governance in Utah still has some annoying effects on how and where alcohol can be sold and consumed in the state, however.  Want to buy beer? No problem, just go to any supermarket or gas station, and there it is. However, you’ll find that all the beer sold there tops out at 4% ABV. The major American macrobreweries, such as Budweiser and Miller, have to brew special versions of their disgusting standbys just for sale in Utah (Bud and MGD usually clock in at 5% ABV). The packaging says “not to exceed 3.2% alcohol by weight” (which translates to 4% by volume), and in order to get anything stronger, you need to go to a restaurant or to a state-run liquor store (which is also where you’ll need to go to buy wine or booze). 

Utah is full of slightly odd but immensely friendly people and incredibly scenery. We hiked to damn near the top of this thing, which for scale is about as tall as these things. I knew the beer would taste good afterwards.
In order to stay on supermarket shelves and compete statewide with the big boys, the Utah’s microbreweries make most (but not all) of their beer at 4% ABV. The first one I tried, Polygamy Porter, is a good example. Porters just about never have ABVs below 5%, so Wasatch Beers, the makers of Polygamy, have to employ some creative chemistry in order to make it taste and feel anything like a porter (though I admittedly have no idea what these methods might entail). And honestly, Polygamy Porter isn’t really a porter at all. It’s more like a dark, chocolaty ale, but much thinner in texture than a porter. It’s good for what it is, and after a day of hiking it hit the spot.

Fun fact: there are no showers in Zion National Park, so after our big hike I went to bed smelling like beer, campfire, chili, and sweat.
Of course, because Polygamy Porter is a bit lighter, it makes it easier to drink more of them, which the marketing gurus have cleverly noticed. Everything about the beer is a less-than-subtle F-U to the Mormon establishment in Utah, which officially denounced polygamy in 1890 but still finds itself the butt of polygamy jokes. An alcoholic beverage, banned by your religion, named after an act that your religion is embarrassed about? That stings. (Of course, Mormons are somehow NOT embarrassed about this. Or this. Or this. Or this.)

Clever slogan! Just like the biblical-looking fellow on the bottle, famous Mormon Brigham Young was a poonhound.


  1. When I was in SLC, the brewpubs and breweries could sell high abv beers, but only in bottles. All of the taps were of the low abv variety.

  2. To get a lower alcohol % you either lower the starting gravity or raise the terminal gravity. Most likely, they keep their original gravity low by intentionally being less efficient when they do their mash. In doing so, they keep their flavor profile, but there's less sugar in the wort and less sugar means less stuff for the yeast to eat, and if those yeast have less sugar to eat, they poop out less alcohol. I think. I might be way off, but I"m guessing that's what's going on rather than super fancy chemistry.