- Mike Riedel
Here we are on the eve of the big switch, when our beloved Utah suds make the move from 4% alcohol by volume (3.2% alcohol by weight) to 5% ABV. A lot of emotion and heartache went into this meager 1% jump in the potency of your beer; many of you have expressed to me that you are fully on board, and that this change is long overdue.
I absolutely agree. Eighty-six damn years is a long time to be stuck in that restrictive 3.2 pit, and I know that many of you are eager to crawl up into the sun. As we move into the new era of 5%, I urge you to keep a few things in mind as you head out to vote with your hard-earned dollars.
First: We're about to be inundated with a shitload of new brands and styles, from breweries with great and not-so-great track records. According to the Brewers Association, more than 6,300 breweries were operating in the United States at the end of 2017. Granted, the majority will not be looking to Utah to sell their suds. However, if even 1% look to add their names to the state's already growing roster of new domestic and international brands, it would change the local beer-drinking landscape like we've never seen. It will be up to you and me to weed out the weak players—to ensure there's a quality selection on our draft handles and store shelves.
Second: Our local breweries will likely take a hit as this beer invasion commences. Since the mid-1980s, Utah's craft breweries have been providing fresh and unique beer style at a time when other beer producers wanted no part of our state's weird and peculiar adult beverage practices. Utah currently has 39 individual brew houses (with more due in 2019) that are covering your sudsy needs from every quadrant of the state. You don't always have to choose our local beers over those from outside our Utah-shaped box, but it's important to consider the economic impact that breweries contribute to local commerce. Most breweries find their way into various low-rent areas due to land costs and zoning issues. These beer-based businesses have a strong record of reviving long-depressed areas, and often anchor new developments. We owe it to these small business owners that have taken care of us to ensure that some conglomerate's quarterly quotas don't shutter local mom and pop breweries.
Third: Please don't become a 5.0% alcohol dick. Believe it or not, there are beers out there that are 100% to style at 4.0% and below, and these beers will continue to be made as part of a brewery's seasonal or primary portfolio. Some social media platforms say a few beer enthusiasts are already pulling out their pitchforks and torches as they set out to crucify any brewery that still has the audacity to make a "3.2 beer." Gose biers, Berliners, Lambics, American Lagers and many other beer styles fall within the old line, and some will still be there waiting for you on Nov. 1.
Although the landscape is changing, we as beer consumers have the opportunity to drive Utah's beer drinking culture in the direction that we collectively choose. Will it be a market full of macro and out-of-state brands, or will we continue to embrace Utah beer and own it like we would any sports franchise or drum-banging anthem? As always, cheers!