Craft beer is having a moment nationally and right here in the Beehive State. “Microbreweries around the country are experiencing an unprecedented boom not seen since before Prohibition, and the same is true in Utah,” says Mike Riedel of Utah Beer Blog. We may be known for our consumption of green Jell-O, but it turns out Salt Lakers and Parkites love a good cold one, too. Don’t let that old notion, “you can’t get a drink in Utah,” fool your out-of-town guests—they can, and it will be a mighty fine one. “People who visit Utah are shocked at the quality of craft beer here,” says Judy Cullen, brew pubs marketing manager for Squatters Pub Brewery and Wasatch Brewery.
Pilsner, Kölsch, Hefeweizen, Cream Ale
“I call Hefeweizen the gateway beer of craft beers,” says Squatters’ brewmaster Jason Stock. At Squatters Pub Brewery in downtown Salt Lake City, Hefeweizen is the number-one selling draft beer. Private events manager Lauren Boyack pairs their American Wheat Hefeweizen with the pub’s lighter catering fare like scallops on polenta, and Wasatch's Provo Girl Pilsner with seafood and marinara-based pizzas. Chris Haas, brewmaster at Desert Edge Brewery, recommends cream ales and Kölsch for weddings because they’re crowd-pleasers. “Kölsch bridges the gap between Coors drinkers and craft beer connoisseurs,” he says. Try Desert Edge’s Courtney Marie Kolsch, named for Haas’ niece. He’s also a fan of helles-style lagers, which he served at his own wedding. There’s a reason that roughly 90 percent of all beers consumed worldwide are lagers. Three reasons, actually: they tend to be light, crisp, and refreshing. Rio Connelly, brewer, beverage director, and part owner of SLC’s Avenues Proper, recommends their helles-style Sam Dogger Lager. “It goes great with something salty like fish and chips,” he says.
Beer is right at home with barbecue and comfort foods for backyard shindigs and casual rehearsal dinners, but it can also go fancy for high-end, multi course meals featuring seafood and steak. Mary Crafts of Culinary Crafts says beer is a perfect fit for food stations and family-style dinners. Want to serve beer and wine? Crafts suggests pouring brews and signature beer cocktails during cocktail hour and then serving vino with plated meals. But bring back the beer after dinner, says Chris Haas. When it’s time to hit the dance floor, he recommends offering Kölsch because it’s refreshing and easy to drink. And for the party after the party? “Desert Edge’s Latter Day Stout is the perfect late-night beer because it’s served on a nitrogen tap so it’s less filling,” he says.
IPA & Imperial IPA
“For a long time Utah was an amber ale state, but it’s morphed into a pale ale, IPA, and double IPA state,” says Dan Burick, director of brewing operations for Squatters and Wasatch Beers. “India Pale Lager is also really popular. It’s less bitter but still has a hoppy flavor.” Squatters’ brewmaster Jason Stock says the Hop Rising Double India Pale Ale is a popular bottled beer (fun fact: he’s pictured on the bottle’s label). Stock loves IPAs and IPLs paired with Indian food—think anything from Bombay House. Culinary Crafts’ Mary Crafts is also a fan of Hop Rising; she pairs it with fried pickles and spicy bleu cheese dipping sauce. “We are getting more and more requests for hoppy beers,” she notes. Squatters’ Full Suspension Pale Ale is another of Crafts’ top picks—pair it with Caesar salad and ale-glazed salmon, suggests Lauren Boyack, Squatters’ private events manager. Avenues Proper’s Rio Connelly adds, “IPAs go great with a rich burger.” He pairs their Hopspital IPA with the Proper Burger topped with house-made tomato jam, white cheddar, and crispy fried shallots.
Porters, Stouts, & Other Dark Beers
Think all dark beers are too heavy to handle? Think again. “Not all dark beers are super aggressive,” says Desert Edge brewmaster Chris Haas. “They can be light in flavor.” Case in point: Desert Edge’s Black Sky Porter, which Haas says drinks like a lager. He recommends darker beers for dessert courses, like Desert Edge’s Shot in the Dark Coffee Stout, brewed with a special blend from Millcreek Coffee Roasters. Similarly, Epic Brewing’s Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout is brewed with coffee beans from Logan’s Café Ibis. At Salt Lake restaurant Pago, pastry chef Courtney McDowell whips up a red velvet beet cake with fennel and crème fraiche cream, candied walnuts, vanilla-bean gelato, and beet chips. She says the dessert’s earthy, rich flavors pair well with Epic’s Imperial Stout. For late-night snacks, Culinary Crafts serves shot glasses of dark beer with maple-glazed peanuts and bacon in petit bamboo cones. If you’re tying the knot in the a.m. or hosting a post-wedding morning meal, serve stout with your mimosas. “The roasted, coffee-esque flavors go great with brunch,” says Avenues Proper’s Rio Connelly.
It’s not just what you drink, but also how you drink it. “Mini pilsner glasses or mugs of beer paired with hors d’oeuvres are always a hit,” says Mary Crafts. Serve barbecue beef sliders with sips of Uinta Brewing’s King’s Peak Porter, or local buffalo and Beehive Cheese cheddar sliders with Uinta’s Cutthroat Pale Ale. Squatters’ Lauren Boyack works with brides and grooms to create personalized pint glasses and custom labels for beer bottles served at their events. “They’re great for engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, and receptions and make an awesome guest takeaway,” she says. Custom koozies designed by Cuisine Unlimited keep cans cool and double as favors.
Fruit & Veggie Beers
“Saisons are great beers to drink with food,” says Rio Connelly of Avenues Proper. The gastropub and brewery’s SkittleBrau series saison-style ales are brewed with a rotating cast of seasonal fruit; the spring version is fermented with 85 pounds of real strawberry purée. Connelly likes to drink it with a roasted beet salad or strawberry-rhubarb crumble for dessert. Emily Lavin with Cuisine Unlimited pairs fruity foods with fruity beers, such as mango-glazed chicken, fruit salad, pies, and cobblers with Wasatch Raspberry Wheat Beer and Epic’s Brainless on Peaches Belgian Ale. Pago and Finca pastry chef Courtney McDowell also favors Epic’s Brainless on Peaches to wash down her mini peach pies made with local stone fruit. “Epic took its classic Belgian-style ale and added peaches then aged it in French Chardonnay casks,” she explains. “The beer is a little fruity and tart, and goes really well with a buttery, flaky piecrust filled with warm brown sugar peaches.” For fall weddings, consider serving Wasatch Pumpkin Ale. “It’s full-on pumpkin pie in a glass,” says Utah Beer Blog’s Mike Riedel.
Tips on Tap
Beer is the new wine
“Some craft beers are equally as complex in flavor as wine,” says Emily Lavin with Cuisine Unlimited Catering and Special Events. Chocolate and juicy steaks aren’t just a match for Cabernet—Lavin says they’re also tasty teamed with the rich, sweet flavors of dark beers like Wasatch Polygamy Porter, Uinta Brewing’s Labyrinth Black Ale, and Epic’s Smoked Porter. “A good porter with a steak is awesome,” agrees Squatters’ brewmaster Jason Stock. He thinks beer lends itself better to food pairings than wine. “The flavor profiles of beer are all over the map,” he says. “They run the gamut from light to dark, sweet to sour, and everything in between.” Mary Crafts says beer is the perfect pairing for local artisan cheese including Beehive Cheese Co., Drake Family Farm, and Rockhill Creamery.
You have a tasting to decide on the cake, so why not pick your big-day beverages with a beer tasting? Hit downtown Salt Lake’s bar scene to do some drinking, er, research. Opened this spring, Beer Bar pours more than 140 beers, 30 on tap, and beer cocktails, plus it offers 13 gourmet sausages made locally by Chef Frody Volgger served on rolls from Eva’s Bakery. There are also Belgian fries with homemade dipping sauces, developed by consulting chef Viet Pham of Forage fame, like curry ketchup, roasted jalapeño aioli, and Utah fry sauce, natch. The bar boasts the state’s only certified cicerone (a sommelier for beer), Kyle Trammell. Also visit The Bayou and Beerhive Pub.
Beer is Budget-Friendly
Lauren Boyack, private events manager for Squatters and Wasatch Pubs, says you get a lot more bang for your buck with beer. “In general, beer by the glass is cheaper than wine by the glass, but it all depends on the type of beer you serve,” she says. Purchase bottles and cans of local brews at State Liquor Stores, or buy Squatters and Wasatch beers by the case, the most economical option, at the Utah Brewers Cooperative in Salt Lake (1763 South 300 West). It’s not legal to buy kegs in Utah, though Mary Crafts notes they might be allowed at your event if it’s at a restaurant or venue with the proper liquor license.
Wild Card (beer cocktails)
Make a splash at your event with trendy beer cocktails. Mary Crafts suggests serving signature beer cocktails with themed food stations. Instead of traditional Moscow Mules, shake things up with Culinary Crafts’ Italian Berry Mules made with a touch of aged balsamic vinegar; pair them with a station of fresh-pulled mozzarella, grilled bread, and heirloom tomato duxelle.
Speak with your caterer about their recycling services or set up a recycling area near trash bins at your event. Have empty beer bottles leftover from your rehearsal dinner? Repurpose them as wedding centerpiece vases or have guests sign them in lieu of a guest book. “One of our couples did this, and then turned the bottles into a light fixture for their home,” says Cuisine Unlimited’s Emily Lavin.
“Beer” for Non-Imbibers
For underage guests, teetotalers, and sweettooths, Mary Crafts makes old-fashioned root beer floats with Wasatch Brewery’s non-alcoholic Brigham’s Brew, vanilla-bean gelato, and soft gingersnap cookies. Cuisine Unlimited serves booze-free Apple Beer, made in Holladay, and Howie’s Premium Root Beer, made in Pleasant Grove.