Business booming for Utah craft beer aficionados

September 5, 2013 • Entertainment

W[auth] ares are displayed at Union Station Fermentation, a homebrew supply store, in Ogden, Utah, on Friday, Aug. 30 2013. That beer is burgeoning in Utah may surprise those who don’t partake in the sudsy substance, but it’s coinciding with the craft beer industry across the country storming into the mainstream. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Brian Wolfer) MANDATORY CREDIT, LOCAL TV OUT

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — The only thing missing was a cold beer as Pat Winslow eased into a seat underneath a canopy at the front of homebrew supply store Union Station Fermentation. Outside the window, 25th Street travelers trekked along the sidewalk. His mouth practically salivating at the thought of an amber brew, Winslow told the story of the moment he turned into a craft beer enthusiast.

He had always liked drinking beers, he said, but it wasn’t until he attended a beer convention in Omaha, Neb., that it became a passion.

“They brought out a tray with about 15 different samples,” Winslow said. “Then I realized there was more to beer.”

When he got home, Winslow asked his wife for a kit to brew his own beer for Christmas and even read three books on brewing before his kit arrived. He has been concocting cold ones ever since and currently is trying to perfect a cream ale.

Stories like Winslow’s are becoming common in the Top of Utah, where craft beer and homebrewing are steadily increasing in popularity.

Across the street, at Roosters Brewing Company and Restaurant, Colton Layton was just finishing cleaning the large vats in which Roosters’ eight unique beers are brewed. As a brewer at Roosters for the past several years, Layton has had a front-row seat to the craft beer revolution that has brought an influx of brews full of complex flavors and lusty aromas.

“More and more names are popping up,” Layton said, referring to the number of breweries in the state. “We definitely have a booming beer culture.”

That beer is burgeoning in Utah may surprise those who don’t partake in the sudsy substance, but it’s coinciding with the craft beer industry across the country storming into the mainstream.

In 2011, USA Today reported, there were 1,940 craft breweries — defined as a brewery that makes fewer than six million barrels of beer a year — operating in the United States, the most since the 1880s. According to the Brewer’s Association, that number jumped to over 2,300 in 2012, and the American Homebrewers Association estimates that more than 1 million Americans have brewed at least one batch of their own beer in the last year.

Utah certainly has not been immune to the trend, despite its reputation as a dry state. At least 18 breweries are operating in Utah, and thousands of homebrewers are concocting their own beer.

Nigel Itson, owner of Union Station Fermentation, said there are many reasons homebrewing and craft beer appeal to Utahns.

“You can make a beer stronger than 3.2 (alcohol by weight), and you can make whatever kind of beer you want,” he said. “. And no one needs to know about it. You don’t have to be seen coming out of a liquor store.”

Craft beer has become so popular, in fact, that several brewing clubs have popped up around the state. One of the larger local ones, the Ogden-based O-Town Hop Heads, started with just six members, Winslow said, but now has around 60. The draw to brewing is similar for many of the members. It’s a chance to create unique styles of beer, tweaked to just the right taste. And, of course, there’s the delicious payoff when a brew is completed, not to mention the fact a beginner can brew a several-gallon batch for just over $100.

“I enjoy creating,” said Winslow, who brewed 48 different styles of beer last year. “I like cooking and building, and I like creating different beers . And the quality of the beer is much better. There’s much more body, much more complex.”

The complex, rich flavor of craft beer might turn off those accustomed to the lighter flavors of such beers as Budweiser and Coors Light, Winslow admits.

“If you take a Bud Light drinker and give them a pale ale, they’ll be like, ‘That’s not beer,'” he said.

However, Layton, standing behind the Roosters’ bar, the brewery’s gleaming vats in the background, insists everyone can find a style of craft beer that suits their taste buds.

“There’s a craft beer for everyone,” he said. “There’s a taste for everyone. Even if you’re not a beer drinker.”

Itson says his wife, Shoshanna, is proof of that. She did not like the flat taste of Budweiser-type beers, but she has become a beer expert since Itson started brewing about a decade ago.

“She wouldn’t touch beer,” Itson said. “Now she can tell you when it was brewed, where and what is in it.”

Winslow doesn’t expect the craft beer revolution to slow down in Utah anytime soon. Not only do homebrewers gain converts just by sharing their tasty libations, the movement is defining the beer tastes of the generation that will ensure its survival.

“The younger generation are drinking those beers more often,” he said. “And they’re frequenting the breweries that make them.”

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