The Salt Lake Tribune published a lighthearted article yesterday: “Beehive State Brew”. In it, journalist Kathy Stephenson takes a look at the history of beer in Utah. She writes,
[Tourists to Utah] 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 Mormon pioneers arrived.
Ms. Stephenson interviews two people in her article. One is Utah resident Stan Sanders, a collector of Utah beer memorabilia. The other is Del Vance, author of the new self-published book, Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah. I was surprised by much of the information in the article; you might be, too. Here’s a bit of it to wet your whistle.
“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.”
…”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… 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.