Still think Utah is an entirely dry state, devoid of alcohol and all the deliciousness that goes with it? You’re missing out. Utah has made strides in both legislation and cocktail culture in recent years. But I have even better news: It’s time!
The annual Sundance Film Festival kicks off January 17 for two full weeks of mountainside shenanigans, and with that many New Yorkers, Los Angelenos and Las Vegans in one place, you bet your bitters there will be boozing. And if you’ll be among them, here’s what you should be drinking.
If you’re Utah-bound you’ve likely been warned about the so-called “near beer,” or low-point brews with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (4 percent alcohol by volume). Relax. High-point (full-strength) domestic and imported beer is widely available at state liquor stores, and at most restaurants and bars. In fact, most of the beer you’re likely to encounter during Sundance will be high-point except for that found at grocery and convenience stores.
Of course, there’s one beer that you can’t escape during Sundance. Stella Artois, the official beer of the festival, unveils a new partnership on January 18 with renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz that will soon appear in the likes of GQ, Elle and Vanity Fair. But if you’re really more of a craft-brew person, you can forgo the proffered Stellas and drink local. Really local.
The newest entrant into the Utah craft-beer scene is Shades of Pale, a seriously micro brewery located right in Park City proper, in a tiny garage that is bursting with gleaming tuns and tanks. In his rubber boots and gloves, brewer Trent Fargher, a former accountant and IT consultant, seems very content with his vocation. Shades of Pale currently puts out bombers, colorful 22-ounce bottles (wife Alexandra does the graphic design) of low-point beer so popular he can’t make it fast enough to satisfy even northern Utah’s demand. It’s a smart move when you consider that his low-alcohol beers get him into those aforementioned grocery and convenience stores. Such a leg up is just what a tiny brewery needs to increase output and add high-point beers to the portfolio, which is Fargher’s master plan.
However small for now, Shades Of Pale will make a big impression as a sponsor of Concerts at Sundance, a performance series with proceeds benefitting cancer research. Visit ShadesOfPale.com to see all the places that serve and sell Shades of Pale, but definitely plan to try the Publican Pale Ale with a bison burger at Main Street’s No Name Saloon. You can pick up a few of those to bring home—as well as the Jack Wagon American Wheat and the 4-Play Porter—at the Park City Smith’s or at the brewery itself.
While you’re in Park City, you should sample some other local delights. High West Distillery’s range of small-batch whiskeys is now available in 39 states, as well as in Canada, China, the U.K. and, just announced this week, Australia. But you won’t have to go that far—David Perkins’ distillery and saloon is located right in the heart of Old Town Park City. There you can see the shiny Holstein still at Utah’s first legal distillery since Prohibition (sort of like our own Las Vegas Distillery, only Utah actually beat us to the punch by a couple of years), and check out the many aged and un-aged rye whiskeys, the unique Son of Bourye (a bourbon/rye blend), Campfire (scotch, rye and bourbon), American Prairie Reserve bourbon and, if you’re on the corporate card, the 21-year-old Rocky Mountain rye. Try them neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail—the Krispy Kreme bread pudding goes great with all of them.
Finally, if you’re thinking that a trip to Utah means you’ll have to do without your customary evening cocktail, again, relax. True, Park City cocktails might be of slightly smaller volume than you’re used to—you’ll get no Long Island Iced Teas here. (Honestly, why are you still drinking those anyway?) You’ll be impressed by the beer list at Tavern, the new British-style gastropub overseen by a Gordon Ramsay disciple at Old Town’s Sky Lodge. You might even be amused by the somewhat modified bottle service at the Downstairs nightclub (picture your Grey Goose locked in a birdcage). But you will just love what’s going on at the St. Regis in tony Deer Valley.
If the breathtaking ride up the funicular doesn’t win you over, a drink at the J&G Grill might do the trick. This mountaintop perch has it all: roaring fireplace, piping-hot cider toddies and spiked cocoa, a distinctive Bloody Mary menu and loads of be-parka’d, Sundancing celebrities. Charm your way through the après-ski crush to the bar and begin your session with a Sego Lily—Park City’s tipsier mimosa—while you peruse chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s dining menus. Barman Alex Quesada’s house-made bitters program should be rolling out along with the film festival’s red carpets just in time for your arrival.
Just be sure to keep an eye on the clock. If it’s 5:30 p.m. at the St. Regis, a bottle of sparkling wine is being ritually sabered on the patio to celebrate the day and welcome the night to Park City. You’re welcome, too.
Where do you drink in Park City? Tell us in the comments section below.