“Can we get a table outside?” I asked. “I’m sorry, the patio isn’t open yet.” the friendly hostess responded. Not open yet? It was early afternoon on a Saturday, almost 70 degrees and sunny. In Minnesota, this place would be overflowing. I’d heard that Utah had some interesting laws and it was unclear whether this was one of them. It was the start of a series of head scratching revelations we would have during our visit to Strap Tank Brewery.
Utah’s liquor laws are some of the most restrictive in the United States. This is in large part due to the presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, that make up the majority of the population and wield their influence at every level of government. Since the religion embraces teetotalism it has led to many strange and, frankly, inconsistent laws.
“Do you have flights?” I asked. “No, but you can order tasters of any beer” our waitress responded. This wasn’t that odd, but I was then informed you could only order two tasters at a time. “You’ll have to order food too.” Emilie, my brother in-law’s girlfriend, chimed in. In a restaurant, food must accompany all alcohol purchases. It was our lunch stop, so not an issue, but out of the ordinary. The waitress then collected our driver’s licenses and explained she would need to take them to get scanned. I shrugged, along for the ride.
While I was puzzling over the circumstances that led to my current situation, I set my sights on the taproom. Strap Tank is located in Springville, Utah. Founder Rick Salisbury was determined to open a destination brewery that combined fresh craft beer and food under the roof of a reproduction of the original Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory. I’d say he succeeded. It’s a gorgeous brick building with a mountainous backdrop. I recommend taking a walk around it since there are a lot of details you’d miss if you only stop inside. There are motorcycles and memorabilia throughout the taproom. The original factory must have had a second level and to provide a faithful experience someone built a fake second level and then artificially broke the boards. Not authentic, but it fits the decor.
Strap Tank refers to one of the earliest Harley-Davidsons ever created and that namesake motorcycle from 1907 has a home across the parking lot at Legends Motorcycles. They’ve got a private collection of over 200 vintage bikes, including one of the best unrestored examples of the Strap Tank model. Repeat the phrase “you break it, you buy it” to yourself while you admire it, this puppy could fetch half a million dollars. Right next to it is the world’s oldest Harley-Davidson, from 1905. After prohibition, thirty years after those first motorcycles rolled off the line, Utah would begin massive restrictions on the sale of alcohol within its boundaries.
“Would you like another beer?” the waitress asked my brother in-law Charles. “Yah, I’ll try the Budgie Smuggler” he replied. “Ok, just be sure that one is gone before I get back!” she prompted as she pointed to the pint glass in front of him. Only an ounce or two remained, but Utah laws require you to finish your drink before ordering another. The familiar ritual of a waiter asking you what you want to drink before you order your food? That didn’t exist in Utah until a law passed in 2013 that allowed it. And the coolest sounding liquor law is the Zion Curtain. Before 2017 it required every bartender preparing an alcoholic drink to be separate from the patrons by a “solid, translucent, and permanent” divider. The most maddening aspect of the laws are their inconsistency. Most of them hinge on whether you’re licensed as a bar or a restaurant. We entered no bars during our trip, our nine month old was with us, and children are not allowed to enter.
Things are changing. The craft beer restriction with the most impact is that all beer out of a tap must be 4.0% ABV or lower. You can still get higher; you just have to order a bottle or a can. They’ll dutifully bring it to your table and let you pour it yourself. In November 2019 this restriction will loosen to 5.0% AV. The response from craft brewers to this change has been mixed. The general thought is that increase isn’t high enough and that it’s an arbitrary law that doesn’t apply to any other form of alcohol other than beer.
I ordered six tasters during my visit (two at a time of course), all 4.0% ABV. There was the Highside American Wheat, Gose, Bonkers English Brown Ale, Frank Schwarzbier, Suave Guave Fruited Berliner Weisse, and the Sgt. Holtz Nitro Stout. Because of the alcohol restrictions all of the beers embodied a single note that reflected their style. It’s impossible to say that I didn’t enjoy the beers, I did, they just didn’t excite me. The one exception was their Fruited Gose. It’s a style of beer that shines at low ABV and it had a clean and sweet cherry aroma with exceptional stone fruit flavors.
Strap Tank has a unique taproom with great attention to detail and the museum across the parking lot complements the restaurant. It’s free, and digested in 10 to 15 minutes. We hadn’t planned much for breweries in Utah, saving most of our visits for our road trip back to Minnesota, but I was delighted that we stopped at Strap Tank. Their food was serviceable and the beers went down smooth. If anything, they’ll give you a crash course in Utah liquor laws!