SALT LAKE'S HIGH-ELEVATION BEERS

Utah just does fun bigger than anywhere else. It’s hard to refute the greatness of the snow, the radness of the recreational areas, or the sweetness of Salt Lake. And, surprising to some, we have some of the best beers in the nation. Whether you’re taking an Export Lager down the Weber River or pairing a Big Bad Baptist with an epic powder day at Brighton, there’s a big beer for every big appetite and every big adventure.

Here’s a compilation of our favorite high-point beers (above 4.0 ABV). It's not so much a “best of” list as it is a liquid mixtape. Take each big beer in turn, enjoy its unique deliciousness, and then, eventually, transition to the next.

BIG BAD BAPTIST IMPERIAL STOUT // EPIC BREWING COMPANY

Not everyone reads labels—especially beer labels (who wants to count calories when you’re sipping a cold one?). But it’s worthreading the labels on the beers from Epic Brewing Company (address), because they stamp the batch number. Each release is slightly different.Epic is always tweaking its recipes and pushing envelopes, and Release #31 of the Big Bad Baptist is no exception.

This batch of the Bad One features local roaster Charming Beard’s Guatemalan coffee. The beer has a luxurious head and deep rich flavors imparted from being aged in used whiskey/bourbon barrels. A heavy dose of malt give the beer gravitas and a dark hue, while three hop varietiesrender a slight punchiness. The added cocoa nibs impart a smooth, slightly sweet finish. The beer packs a whollop at just over the 11% ABVmark, thereby living up to its name.

ELEPHINO // RED ROCK BREWING COMPANY

What’s the best beer in Utah? Hell if we know. But the Elephino ranks right up there. Red Rock Brewery’s most popular bottled beer is this Double IPA. It’s robust, incredibly hoppy, and high in alcohol (8% ABV).There couldn’t be a better name for Elephino, maybe because you can’t quite pin down why it’s your go-to big beer. Just shrug your shoulders, and drink up.

The Elephino pours a hazy golden-orange and has a big, creamy-white head. The brewmaster, Kevin Templin, describes this beer as having wafts of tropical fruits, like orange and grapefruit, and hints of pine. The dry bitterness on the backend is from the five different hop varieties. Yet the beer is well-balanced and doesn’t wreck your palate. In early 2014, Elephino was voted the “Best Beer in Utah” by readers of the Utah Beer Blog.

Where Do I Purchase Utah’s Big Beers?

Because of current state liquor laws, beers above 4.0% ABV can be purchased at a State Liquor Store, on-site at a brewery’s store, or at a bar, but not in grocery or convenience stores. The advantage of buying at a brewery is that the beer is fresh, it has never been raised to room temperature, and you can often find rare selections not found elsewhere.

HOP RISING DOUBLE IPA // SQUATTERS BREWING

The Hop Rising Double IPA is a damn big beer in a 12-ounce bottle. Not only does it pack a flavorful and intense hop profile, it’s really drinkable. So much so that it’s the second best-selling high-alcohol beer in Utah’s state liquor stores, says Squatter’s. Brewmaster Jason Stock graces the cover of the bottle while brandishing a pitchfork with a big ol’ hop on it—a hop the size of his head.

And that’s about what the beer tastes like. 

This 9% ABV beer launched on the forefront of America’s obsession with IPAs. As a side note, IPAs account for the vast majority of all craft beer sales in America. Hop Rising uses two pounds of hops per barrel to attain its complex character. There’s lively, citrus hoppiness with a subdued woody aroma and a hint of caramel. Pouring yourself a Hop Rising is a hopportunity not to be missed (sorry).

EXPORT LAGER // BOHEMIAN BREWERY

This recipe hails from Dortmund, Germany, a blue-collar town, and was the German answer to the Czech pilsner—several hundred years ago. It's easy to drink after a hard day’s work, but it has a little more oomph for the blue-collar beer drinker. Export offers a slight hoppiness (40 IBUs), which is balanced out by a malt profile, and it finishes crisp and clean—so you’re ready for a second or third. The 6% ABV is in that nice middle range, where balance remains in tact and you don’t get too buzzed.

Bohemian Brewery specializes in lighter, time-tested beers. The brewery’s mission is to use recipes that are often hundreds of years oldand adhere to the German Beer Purity Law (no more than three ingredients allowed in the production of beer). Bohemian’s slogan, “Old Skool Brew,” rings true to the authenticity and tradition beholden in this beverage.

DEVASTATOR DOUBLE BOCK // WASATCH BREWERY

Wasatch Brewery has always had a distinct sense of humor, thanks to owner Greg Schirf, who doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers in the Beehive State. For instance, Schirf followed the Budweiser Clydesdales down Park City’s Main Street with a pack of dogs during the 2002 Olympics, proclaiming that Wasatch was the “unofficial” beer of the games. Antics aside, we can raise a glass to Schirf, whose fight on Capitol Hill more than two decades ago allowed brewpubs to operate in Utah.

All that’s said for a reason: Devastator Double Bock’s tongue-in-cheek artwork should makes sense now. It’s the Devastator busting through the Capitol Building and the Temple, thus tackling church and state with a big beer ram. This 8% ABV beer tastes toasty and fairly sweet, with notes of toffee and caramel, and has a slightly creamy mouthfeel. For such a big ram, it’s supremely drinkable.

CROOKED LINE TILTED SMILE // UINTA BREWING COMPANY

It’s also worth noting the artwork of Uinta’s Tilted Smile—and all of the beers in the Crooked Line—because the brewery hired local artists to create each beer’s unique label. The Tilted Smile features the letterpress stylings of Leia Bell, who for years was the city’s most well-known concert poster artist. Bell has the ability to capture those small moments we can all connect to. Like when you get off the mountain and crack open a refreshing, high-point imperial Pilsner—the Tilted Smile, of course.

You'll crack a smile, but you won’t crack open this bottle, because it’s corked. Tilted Smile is big in alcohol (9% ABV), yet incredibly approachable and versatile. It’s ideally balanced with only Saaz hops and 100% Pilsen malt. It’s crisp and delightful, and could easily be paired with a pizza or an apple pie. Take a big swig or sip it, and get a little tilted.

Words & Photos: Austen Diamond Photography