Annual beer festival arrives as more Utahns preach the gospel of craft brewing

Once upon time, a malted beverage known as Gose, named for a tiny river in Germany, was really popular. Brewers in Leipzig three centuries ago brewed it with equal parts wheat and barley and flavored with coriander and salt.

Now the Connelly brothers, Liam and Rio, born and raised in Salt Lake City, are hoping to make this ancient beer popular in their home state by releasing it as a signature product from their upstart brewery.

"It was brewed with salt and we have lots of salt here at the Great Salt Lake," said Rio, taking a break from serving thirsty beer aficionados lined up at the Proper Brewing Co.'s booth Saturday at the Utah State Fairpark. "We use local salt in our Gose. That's why we call it 'Lake Effect.'"

The Connellys' wares were among more than 200 beers and ciders served at the seventh annual Utah Beer Fest, hosted by City Weekly. As proof that America's beer renaissance has arrived in the notoriously booze-aphobic Beehive State, the event has grown and grown since its humble beginnings.

Saturday the festival and 7,000 attendees occupied a big part of the Fairpark, where it moved this year. The festival outgrew its previous editions at Gallivan Center and Washington Square.

Some 57 brewers participated including national brands like Samuel Adams, Coors and Henry Weinhards, as well as established Utah players like Squatters, Uinta, Desert Edge, Epic and Red Rock.

Moises Juarez, who's partial to hops-infused IPAsócode for India pale aleócame to try the out-of-state beers, since he has already tried most Utah selections.

"If it's light, I like it better," Juarez said. "With this weather, it hits the spot."

He was sampling an IPA whose alcohol by volume weighed in at 8.8 percent, more than double found in draft beer, which is limited by law to 4 percent.

"This is really yummy."

In the past couple years, several artisanal breweries have opened in Utah include 2 Row Brewing in Midvale; Strap Tank Brewing in Springville (we're talking Utah County here); Bonneville Brewery in Tooele; Vernal Brewing; and Talisman Brewing in Ogden.

The founders of such companies tend to be long-time home brewers who quit their day jobs to follow their dreams. Several reported that sales continue to rise and beer lovers seek out their beers, which are not always easy to find in Utah with its state-run monopoly on liquor.

Yet Utah is finally catching up to other states that have fully developed craft beer markets, thanks to appreciative consumers and accommodating laws.

"People [in Utah] are more open to high-point beers now and the community is starting to grow. There are more beer connoisseurs," said Dede Coleman, who recently launched 2 Row with her husband Brian.

The Colemans' brewery's name derives from the type of barley where grains are lodged in the seed head in two rows. That's opposed to the low-quality six-row barley used in the Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and other supermarket beers.

Dusty Williams, who launched Talisman with his wife JoAnn this year, believes consumers increasingly view beer as a delicacy to be savored in small amounts rather than purchased in suitcase sized packages. Accordingly, the beers on tap Saturday ran the gamut from dark heavy stouts to light crisp pilseners.

"The whole point of craft beer is variety," said Dave Watson head brewer at Bonneville.

Rio Connelly is Proper's head brewer. Brother Liam is the sales manager. The brewery is housed with their Avenues Proper restaurant in Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood.