Last week my wife and I rented an absurdly large all-wheel-drive vehicle and hit the backroads of southern Utah, a trip we make every year or two when the grim tug of professional life starts to feel like a pit we can't crawl out of.
Instead, we crawl into pits and gullies, slot and box canyons, into washes and draws and meadows, taking in geological epochs in a glance, where the rock is red and every wall face bears the promise of art in an ancient hand.
Utah seems as backward as California is forward. You're more likely to see a mule deer than a cellphone tower for long stretches of road and open space, and signals come not from satellites but from the murmur of your bloodstream and your breath. You're forced to slow down and gather.
Needless to say, there wasn't a cocktail to be found. I'm sure there are taverns in Salt Lake City and environs, but I have yet to see anything that resembles a bar in the southern half of the state, where Mormon roots run deep. Here the state-run liquor stores are grim, run-down affairs that seem designed to make you feel guilty just for asking. It goes without saying that I brought my own — more on this in a moment, but suffice to say that the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” applies to drinking, too.
There was, however, a small but very good selection of homegrown beer. Actually, better than very good: fresh, well-crafted, small-batch marvels that made us look forward to the end of each day's hike.
Perhaps the state's best-known brewery is Wasatch, its fame derived from its playful fun-poking at Mormonism, with brews like Polygamy Porter, Evolution Amber and Brigham's Brew (which is, in fact, root beer). My wife and I went for summer brews, however, like the Kölsch-style ale from Wasatch, and Uinta's Golden Spike Hefeweizen.
Meanwhile, to stave off the chill of a high desert evening I packed a flask of a new whiskey product from a Utah distillery — yes, you read that correctly, a Utah distillery — called High West, founded in 2007 in Park City, the first in the state since 1870. Proprietor David Perkins has just introduced a new product called Campfire whiskey, which blends bourbon, rye and a measure of peaty single malt, allowing a hint of smoke to circle around a sweet core of mellow American spirits. It was, in a word, a delicious dram — simple, flavorful, totally accessible — and it completely hit the spot under the stars.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.