- Mike Riedel
When it comes to alcohol in Utah, the terms "weird" and "peculiar" tend to come to mind. No matter whether it's beer, wine or spirits, if you intend to enjoy it, you can plan on jumping through a couple of circus-sized hoops to get to that first sip. Let's take, for example, the whole decision-making process of ordering a high-alcohol beer in a large format bottle, like a 22-ounce bomber. For the average party kid looking to get his or her "drink on," this is a no brainer: Big booze plus big bottle equals big time. But for those of us who require a more measured approach to our days and evenings out, we require a little more thought into our alcohol choices.
You might or might not be aware that the state of Utah considers everything over 4 percent alcohol by volume to be liquor, no matter if it's spirits, wine or beer. A few years back, some very astute bar owners asked the question, "If we can decant wine and spirits, why not beer"? The state statutes really have nothing in the books in regard to this practice, and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control decided this could be a reasonable process for serving high-alcohol beers.
However, there are a few issues that can arise when decanting beer. Oxygen is bad for beer; once opened, the flavors begin to deteriorate. Over time, decanted beers become less effervescent and lose carbonation. And finally, there's the matter of cost: At the end of the night, unused beers left in the bottle will likely go down the drain.
So why do it? Well, a handful of breweries around Salt Lake City have determined that it's better for their pub-drinking customers to have access to all of the beers in their portfolios, at a reasonable glass size, versus keeping big boozy bottles cloistered in the pub's fridges. Four breweries in SLC are happy to open up a large, high-ABV bottle and sell you a sample or a 5-ounce pour, for a fraction of the bottle's original cost. Here are a few examples.
Epic Brewing Co.: From Day 1, you've known these were the high-alcohol beer guys. You also know the majority of their beers are 22-ouncers. Epic's flagship beer, Big Bad Baptist, can dial in at anywhere from 11 to 12.8 percent ABV. I've finished one off before and never will again. Thank you, I'll have just the 5 ounces, please.
Proper Brewing Co.: I love barley wines. When Proper's Géol barley wine hit, I bought a few bottles for home and had a sample or two (or three) at their brewery pub. At 9.8 percent, we can all agree this was the right call.
Toasted Barrel Brewing: Generally, if you put beer into a barrel, it will come out bigger. Although it might be a prerequisite of their tasting room license, it's good to know that their 13 percent Belgian Quad won't be busting my balls all night.
Uinta Brewing Co.: It's bad enough to feel intimidated by big alcohol in a big bottle; now add the sour beer factor to the equation. A big dose of high-point sours on top of a big 750 milliliter bottle can be physically and mentally draining. If I go with the taster or the 5 ounce, I still win.
After the state's markup, many high-end beers become too pricey, so decanting can help a beer-drinker's budget. Suffice it to say, in a state where alcohol logic is often thrown out the window, it's nice to know there are a few islands of sanity willing to cut a few beer nerds a break on their next big beer. As always, cheers!