Utah’s first beer fest: Veritable brew-topia despite rookie mistakes

The pair of  bros ahead of us are wearing what look like rotting leis. Weekend parking in Salt Lake City has forced us to park half a mile away from the County Building, in whose yard the more punctual alcoholics are sipping samples of the Beehive State’s finest brews. We’ve been quietly trying to guess what it is these fools are sporting for three blocks now, and we’re still stumped, until one of them turns toward us.

“You dudes headin’ to the Beer Fest?”

They’re strings of pretzels, hanging around their necks. And you can tell they desperately want us to compliment them for their cleverness and ingenuity. I utterly refuse. I pretend to be suddenly enthralled with the ants crawling below me. I haven’t had any beer yet. Yeah, it’s 2 p.m., and by weekday standards, I shouldn’t be jonesing. But today’s Saturday, I’m an hour late for Utah’s inaugural Beer Fest and I don’t have the patience for any accessory so ungainly, edible or not.

Rumor has it that City Weekly has been attempting to host a soiree in honor of Utah’s most delectable drafts for close to five years now. Finally, by the grace of God or more liberal legislators, it’s happening.

One might think that a letting a party plan stew for half a decade would mean that when the dream translates into reality, it goes off without a hitch. But then one turns the corner, heads west on Fourth South and runs smack dab into the business end of an admission line more expansive than an ode to a bloated liver written by Charles Bukowski himself.

Seriously, the last Cherokee leaving Georgia didn’t behold the backs of this many heads at the tail end of the damn Trail of Tears. And it is taking it’s sweet time, too. My lips, tongue and throat suddenly feel dusty at the sight of it.

Obviously, event coordinators didn’t account for this many people. Mistake number one. The line moves so slowly, that for a while I wonder if perhaps Governor Herbert himself didn’t come down today, with that Three Stooges coiffure of his, to personally check the IDs of each patron entering.

By the time we get to the front to receive our coveted wristband and official Utah Beer Fest plastic sampling cup, there are no fascist politicians patting everyone down. There isn’t even some solitary ticket-taker, looking frazzled at the influx of participants.

In fact, it seems like the whole process is pretty streamlined once you get up front – ticket, wristband, cup, done. Which is frustrating, considering how many times we stood completely still in line for extended periods. It’s as aggravating as stagnating in bumper to bumper traffic for a half-hour, only for normal speeds to inexplicably pick up with no accident debris scattered and no pool of human blood marring the fast lane.

It only got worse. Take the serious beer-drinking population of Salt Lake and the outlying areas. Add thirteen different brewers showcasing forty different beers. Now shove all of this under one canopy on the northwest end of the grounds.

You get all the crippled serpentine lines that you experienced trying to enter but now they’re all so jumbled and jostled that you don’t even know what beer you’re going to sample when you get to the front. I thought I was in the line to sample Crooked’s wares three times before I got it right, and the last time I found myself staring at a keg full of pumpkin ale before I got desperate enough to just straight up jump the line.

At $25 a head, could they not have invested in some dividers? Some velvet ropes? Anything to make sure that I’m sipping something delicious at the end of this arduous wait and not stuck with three ounces of pumpkin-flavored pisswater? At $25 a head and a sold-out event, would it be possible to maybe jam half of our pilsner-peddlers underneath another canopy – we do have an entire city and county building lawn at our disposal, after all.

Yet for all of the inconvenience, all of the disorganization, Utah’s Beer Fest is a beacon of hope behind the Zion Curtain that is overall appreciated, despite logistical aggravations and rookie mistakes. A few years ago, such an event wouldn’t be possible. But Brigham Young’s asture shadow loomed a little less acutely over Salt Lake for an afternoon, and the miserable citizens of a wasteland state that hates the hooch smiled.

The teetotalers of Utah County may imagine Salt Lake as a den of iniquity, teeming with pagan bloodsuckers out to crucify Our Lord afresh. They may decry the extremely slow social liberalization of Utah as a fifth horseman ringing in the Apocalypse. But it didn’t seem that anyone at the Beer Fest had any of those horrible things on their minds, unless Iniquity and Apocalypse are the brands of ale.

In between theory and practice there will always be a chasm, in this case one of slight organizational mishap. After an hour, I stopped noticing the lines and started noticing what a good time I was having. And everyone else for that matter.

Food vendors hawked pizza, ginger pork tacos and some of the best sweet potato pie I’ve ever tasted. Local rock and roll rattled the sound waves, and some of the tipsier patrons danced.  A sense of community permeated the event, one that cannot be solely blamed on alcohol consumption.

Rather, here was a throng of like-minded individuals assembling – not to address grievance or demand redress, but simply to enjoy the sudsy craft of their fellow Utahns on a nice afternoon. In an era of constant Tea Parties, it was good to have a beer.

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