Image: Steven Vargo

Many of Utah’s early settlers came from European countries with strong brewing traditions, and they brought those skills (and hops) with them. Contrary to present-day alcohol prohibitions, early Mormons not only drank spirits but also owned and operated breweries, distilleries, and saloons. That is, until the turn of the last century. Utah declared statewide alcohol prohibition in 1917, and with the federal 18th Amendment in place by 1920, legal spirits production ceased in Utah.

Park City’s independent-minded populace prevailed with brisk underground production and distribution of beer and spirits on Main Street and beyond, and illegal home brewing flourished statewide. Even with the 1933 prohibition repeal, each state had the job of regulating and taxing alcohol independently, establishing in Utah a monopoly of teetotalers determining policies for a product that they actively eschewed (and still do). For a time, Utahns could legally procure only 3.2% ABW (alcohol by weight) beer; anything higher was declared an illegal “intoxicating liquor,” and home brewing remained criminalized. Fortunately for beer lovers, Midwesterner Greg Schirf moved to Park City and almost single-handedly paddle-shocked the legislature into allowing craft beer in Utah for the first time in decades. Schirf established what would become Wasatch Brewing Co in 1986 and opened the first Utah brewpub in more than a century on Park City’s upper Main Street. Cheers to that!

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