SALT LAKE CITY'S BEST 4.0 BEER

After skiing chest-deep powder, fly fishing trout-infested waters, or mountain biking epic trails, what could be better than a cold, refreshing session beer?

The term "session beer" is believed to have originated in Britian, and it means pretty much what you'd think: a session beer is a beer you can enjoy at a reasonable pace for a few hours without getting too buzzed.

Salt Lake's finest breweries make award-winning high-elevation beer, but the bread and butter of the Salt Lake beer scene historically resides in the land of 4.0% ABV. Visitors to Ski City are often confused by the 4.0% AVB cap, as dictated by state law, on beers purchased from grocery stores and on draft at bars. Well, know this: Utah's beers have, time and time again, bested other states' in national competitions. The constraints enhance creativity, and our breweries have had to learn better brewing techniques—they can't mask imperfection behind a big wall of alcohol. A full-flavored beer at 4.0 ABV takes skill, and Salt Lake's breweries have it. True beer lovers appreciate these locally made nuanced ales and pilsners, especially since they can try so many in one sitting.

So here's a compilation of our favorite 4.0% ABV beers. Drink responsibly, but make sure you try them all while you're in Ski City.

OATMEAL RED // AVENUES PROPER RESTAURANT & PUBLICK HOUSE

The Avenues' own neighborhood brewpub specializes in uncommon and regional beers from around the world, and when Avenues Proper does traditional, they put their own spin on it. The Oatmeal Red is an Irish red ale made with 15 percent oats and three varieties of crystal malt. This beer is all about smoothness. Served as a nitro tap (like Guinness Draught), it has shimmery bubbles, a mild sweetness, and a perfectly rich palate. The Oatmeal Red can be paired with many of the pub's small bites and brunch items. Avenues Proper's beers can only be purchased on site, but you can take the Oatmeal Red home in a growler.

CHERNY BOCK // BOHEMIAN BREWERY

Bohemian Brewery specializes in authentic, traditional beers from Germany and the Czech Republic and the Cherny Bock Schwarzbier, a German dark lager, is no exception. Bohemian took home the silver medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Fest in the Schwarzbier category with this beer. It's brewed with Bohemian's Czech Lager Yeast, and while dark in hue, it only hints at the chocolate or coffee flavors you might expect. A darker cousin to a Dunkel beer variety, this Schwarzbier is smooth and malty with a gentle bitterness. Bohemian Brewery was one of the local pioneers in canning beers and continues to innovate: Buy a 12-er at the store and note the perforated coasters in the packaging.

LATTER DAYS STOUT OR UTAH PALE ALE // DESERT EDGE BREWERY

Hops lover and beer educator Chris Haas has been the head brewer at Desert Edge Brewery since 1999. He brews more than 1,000 barrels of beer annually, in 20-plus varieties, including pub classics like the Happy Valley Hefeweizen, Latter Days Stout, and the locals' favorite Utah Pale Ale. Also known as the UPA, it's a light-colored, unfiltered ale. Even the biggest Hop Head can find satisfaction in the big hop flavor and aroma that's uncommon in 4.0% ABV brews. Yet the bitterness is balanced, making this an everyday sipper in Utah.

BERLINER WEISS // EPIC BREWING COMPANY

The Annex's take on a traditional German unfiltered sour wheat beer, Berliner Weiss is light and refreshing with a tart snap on the finish. It's pale blonde in color with champagne-like carbonation. The profile is a nice balance of five varieties of malt and Citra and Mosaic hops. The citrus notes make it perfect for spring and summer sessions.

NUT BROWN SESSION ALE // RED ROCK BREWING COMPANY

Part of Red Rock Brewing Company's Draft Classic line, the Nut Brown Session Ale is well-balanced and highly drinkable and Red Rock's most award-winning beer. It's garnered five silver and six gold medals in competitions such as the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. Styled after an English Brown Ale, this version uses American hops, adding some light floral notes and a hint of caramel to the malt-forward, sweet palate.

FULL SUSPENSION PALE ALE // SQUATTERS BREWING 

If you haven't gotten the point yet, Utah beers rake in the awards. The Full Suspension Pale Ale is a two-time Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner (2001 and 2002 in the bitter category). The Northwest-style pale ale strikes a balance with malty English barley and aromatic hops from Washington's Yakima Valley. It's unfiltered, dry-hopped to 40 IBUs, and downright gulp-able. As Squatters says, "It really smooths out the bumps."

801 PILSNER // UINTA BREWING COMPANY

Uinta Brewing Company celebrated its 21st birthday by releasing its "Community Builder," the 801 Pilsner. Paying it back to the community, Uinta will use the 801 to generate awareness for local non-profit organizations, which will also receive donations from a percentage of sales. There's a different partner non-profit with each brew cycle. For the initial release, Uinta chose the Utah Avalanche Center, whose mission is to provide backcountry riders with the tools and information they need to stay safe in avalanche terrain. The beer itself is a light-bodied, refreshing, and Utah-proud pilsner. It offers a palate that will no doubt appeal to the masses. Community through beer—that's an idea we can get behind.

APRICOT HEFEWEIZEN // WASATCH BREWING

We dare you to find a more refreshing Utah beer. The traditional German-style unfiltered wheat beer (hefeweizen) has notes of licorice, clove, and banana. Wasatch brews this one with natural apricot flavor, which imparts a lovely nose and floral fruit notes to subdue the hefe's big yeast tones. The Apricot Hefeweizen can also be added to a number of recipes, which makes it the ideal, utilitarian BBQ beer.


4.0% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME VS. 3.2% ALCOHOL BY WEIGHT

There are two ways to measure the alcohol content in a beverage: by weight and by volume. Utah's regulators prefer alcohol to be measured by weight, hence why most people refer Utah draft beer as 3.2%. However, most of the world measures alcohol content by volume. A 3.2% ABW is equivalent to 4.0% ABV. Taking the 4.0% ABV into consideration, note that popular beers such as Bud Light and Draught Guinness are only 4.2% ABV.


WHERE DO I PURCHASE 4.0 ABV BEER?

Salt Lake's finest 4.0 ABV beers can be found at grocery stores, convenience stores, in sports arenas, and on draft and bottled at bars—and just about anyplace cool. Because of current state liquor laws, beers above 4.0% ABV must be purchased in bottles or cans at bars, at State Liquor Stores, or on-site at a brewery's store.

Words & Photos: Austen Diamond Photography