When it comes to beer, bigger isn't always better. This is a lesson learned in Utah, where law requires that the vast majority of beer available in the state be brewed to contain no more than four percent alcohol. While some beer connoisseurs hold fast to the idea that a higher alcohol level begets more intense flavor, Utah's most experienced microbrewers point to the festival awards they've won and argue that light-alcohol beers, with more subtle aromas and nuanced flavors, can be just as distinctive as "big" beers. In fact, many brewmasters contend that supercharged beer (some bocks can hit 10 percent alcohol) hides mistakes—just as chocolate ice cream can be an inexperienced dairyman's best friend. The finest offerings from Utah breweries, such as Uinta, Squatters and Wasatch, prove their point. These beers might not hit you over the head, but they certainly make an impression.
Take the Solstice Kölsch Style Ale from Uinta, a 100-percent wind-powered microbrewery in Salt Lake City. On first impression, it's just a thirst-quencher—crisp and light. But take another sip and you pick up fruit rind flavors and pleasant notes of light barley. The Cutthroat Pale Ale is another winner (and the best-selling craft beer in the state), an amber ale with intriguing floral aromas and a smooth, malty finish. Squatters, in Salt Lake City, is one of the better-known brands in Utah (and winner of a pair of gold medals at last year's Great American Beer Festival).
Its Provo Girl Pilsner shows off a nutty aroma and mild hoppy flavor. The Chasing Tail Golden Ale has a smooth mouth feel and an appealing touch of bitterness in the finish. Fans of darker beers should try the Polygamy Porter from Wasatch, Utah's oldest microbrewery, located in Park City. Porters are often heavy, high-alcohol concoctions, but Polygamy Porter, at 4 percent, stands up to the best of them with rich, chocolate-inflected flavors and a long, malty finish. (It also boasts the best tagline in beerdom: "Why Have Just One?")
Though you can find many Utah beers throughout the Rocky Mountain region (Uinta distributes as far away as Virginia), the best way to enjoy the state's suds is to visit brewpubs (see box). In addition to Squatters, Wasatch and Uinta, you'll find small-batch brews from outfits like Desert Edge and Red Rock that don't even bottle their beer. Despite the 4-percent law, Utahns are as rightfully proud of their beer as they are of the 500 inches of annual snowfall that bless their peaks. So next time you're headed for Park City, Snowbird or Alta, down a few or pick up a growler and let them convert you.