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This time of year travelers from all over the world come to Utah for ski vacations, winter sports competitions and - starting tomorrow - the 10-day Sundance Film Festival.

These guests likely have heard plenty of tales of Utah's teetotaling ways.

But few visitors - not to mention some longtime residents - may not realize that the Beehive State has a rich beer-making history. And it began shortly after the the Mormon pioneers arrived.

No kidding!

Years ago, beer didn't just flow in the capital city. Small breweries dotted the landscape from Ogden, Manti, Logan, Alta to Parleys Canyon, usually set up near a fast, clear-running stream, a necessity for proper brewing.

Still can't believe it? The proof is in Stan Sanders' private memorabilia collection.

Sanders, a self-described "saver", has an entire room devoted to Utah beer. Some call it the "Smithsonian" of Beehive brews.

On the shelves there are old brown bottles with raised lettering from the Henry Wagener Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City and green bottles with faded Becker Beer labels, one of Ogden's most successful breweries.

On the walls, there are posters and light-up signs that advertise using beautiful women and catchy slogans such as "Sparkle Brewed to the Altitude" and "Pure as the Breath of Spring."

Sanders has collected plenty of other beer swag, too: matchbooks, ashtrays, pocket mirrors, salt and pepper shakers, light-switch covers and bottle openers that tout Utah beers.

"At one time, there was an awful lot of brewing going on in Utah," says Sanders, who will turn 80 this year.

Indeed, Utah was once the crossroads of the West, so there were plenty of travelers stopping in for a drink. But that couldn't account for all the beer that was consumed, said Sanders, during a recent interview at his Salt Lake City home. The locals had to be downing their fair share as well.

"I know they say the Mormons don't drink [alcohol]," he said, "But I don't know who else drank it."

Many of those early beer consumers were the German, Irish and Italian immigrants who came to work in the Utah mines, said Del Vance, author of the new publication Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah. The self-published book is available for $32.95 at Ken Sanders' Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City. (Ken is Stan Sander's son.)

Back then there was no refrigeration and preservatives that allowed beer to be shipped long distances. Local breweries had to supply what these workers - notorious for their love of beer - needed, said Vance.

"I was surprised that when I started researching the topic there were so many [breweries] in Utah, said Vance, who spent the last two years conducting research for the book which combines his two favorite topics: beer and history. The 315-page book includes Utah and American beer history as well as profiles of more than two dozen historical and modern-day Utah breweries. It also includes many photographs from Sanders' beer memorabilia collection.

Wagener, Becker and Fisher beers were the largest Utah breweries, but there were smaller operations, such as Philadelphia Brewery, P. Buller and Grove. A few were even owned by faithful members of the Mormon church.

"The early pioneers seemed to live by a different set of rules than today," Vance wrote. "They believed in moderation rather than total abstinence from alcohol. Like the Puritans before them they didn't consider beer to be liquor - yet."

For example, a Mormon named Richard Bishop Margetts started Salt Lake City's Utah Brewery and Brigham Young's bodyguard Orrin Porter Rockwell was an owner of the Hot Spring Brewery Hotel near the Point of the Mountain. The brewery claimed to produce up to 500 gallons - about 16 barrels - of "good lager beer" a day, according to Beer in the Beehive.

While focused on beer, Vance's book does mention the fact that Mormons produced their own brand of whiskey, called Valley Tan. It was considered one of the better brands in the West and earned praise from many, including British adventurer Captain Richard F. Burton and Mark Twain.

Even the Mormon-owned department store, Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) sold beer, wine and liquor at its downtown store.

"By 1870, three-fourths of the state's revenue came from the sale of alcoholic beverages," said Vance.

Prohibition, of course, ended all commercial brewing. (Ironically, Utah was the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st Amendment ending national prohibition.)

By then, however, the attitude toward liquor had permanently changed in the state. The Word of Wisdom - a code of health which prohibits Mormons from consuming alcohol and other harmful substances - may have originated in 1833, but not all Mormons followed it strictly until 1921, when adherence was required in order to be worthy of entering a sacred church temple.

In the past decade, Utah brewing has made a comeback, with more than a dozen microbreweries operating in the state. Many of the brews have won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival as well as the World Beer Cup competitions.

It was that recent beer-making success that inspired Vance to write Beer in the Beehive.

"We have some of the best microbrewed beer in the country," he said. "I wanted to refute the image of Utah being a dry, dull boring state."


* KATHY STEPHENSON can be contacted at or 801-257-8612. Send comments about this story to

Utah Beer timeline

1864: Henry Wagener, a 26-year-old German immigrant, establishes the first major commercial brewery in Utah at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.

1871: Jacob Moritz, a 27-year-old German immigrant founded the Salt Lake City Brewing Co. on 500 South and 1000 East.

1884: The A. Fisher Brewing Co. is founded. It eventually becomes Utah's largest brewery.

1903: Carrie Nation, the grandmotherly leader of the Women's Temperance Christian Union comes to Utah for the annual LDS General Conference hoping to recruit attendees to her crusade against alcohol and tobacco.

1917: Utah is one of 21 states to adopt a statewide prohibition on liquor.

1933: Utah becomes the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st Amendment ending national prohibition.

1967: Lucky Lager Brewing Co. (formerly A. Fisher Brewing Co.) closed its doors leaving Utah with no local breweries for the first time in more than a century.

1986: Schirf Brewing Co. established, ending a 19-year drought of craft beer in Utah.

2005: Uinta Brewing Co. sold more than 15,000 barrels of beer, moving it out of the smaller "microbrewery" category and into the group known as regional specialty brewers.

Beer and food-pairing tips:

* ANYTIME that you would seek a wine with high acidity - such as with spicy food or rich dishes - choose a beer with significant hoppiness or bitterness. The more acidic you would want the wine, the hoppier you will want the beer.

* ANOTHER GENERAL RULE is to keep sweet with sweet, and tart with tart. Try to keep the beer sweeter or tarter than the sweet or tart food on the plate. There are exceptions, like pairing drier robust beers with sweet chocolates.

* MATCH FOODS to beer with complementary qualities, such as a hearty stew with a full-bodied ale. Or try a contrasting flavor, such as a crisp, refreshing lager with a heavy cream soup.

* FOR THOSE of you who are bound to the wine-pairing school of thought, think of ale as red wine and lager as white wine. For example, red meat or any dish that you would normally pair with red wine, select an ale to serve with it. Conversely, if the main course is fish or poultry, try a lager.

* TASTE is very subjective; stick with what works for you.

Source:, The Premium Beer Drinker's Guide, by Stephen Beaumont (Firefly Books, $24.95)