Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Backgrounder: The story behind Polygamy Porter

I wrote this post in 2004 about Polygamy Porter, the primo porter from Wasatch Brewing that sticks its thumb in an LDS sore point – polygamy. Even though it’s been banned for 100 years, it’s still associated with the Saints…

SALT LAKE CITY _  During a two hour layover in Salt Lake City Saturday night, I visited  a pub at the airport,which offered a number of standard American lagers and  a single craftbrew _ a porter.

I ordered the porter, took one look at the bottled and started laughing.
Here’s the label: That’s right: Polygamy Porter showing a nearly nude guy and several women with the slogan: “Why Have Just One’’.

In Utah? Whew. Great advertising.

I remember from my days as a kitchen worker long ago in Yellowstone Park, that friends from Ogden and Salt Lake City told me that if I could bring a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes with  me  to anywhere in Utah outside urban Salt Lake City.  I’d have instant friends.

Both tobacco and beer were impossible to obtain outside Salt Lake in heavily Mormon Utah. I was only 18 and looked about 12, so I had no chance to see if they were right _ but it did make me realize that Mormons and beer had an uneasy relationship.

So when I saw “Polygamy Porter’’ I laughed out loud.

Turns out that  this porter and its fey label are old news in Salt Lake.  According to the Associated Press, Wasatch Brewing  founder Greg Schirf came up with the name in 2001; it was part of a plan to draw attention to his craft beer in an increasingly competitive market.

It worked; a billboard company  refused to put up a Polygamy Porter billboard and beer sales went through the roof, sending shudders through the Mormon community,  which has long had an uneasy relationship with polygamy. The church officially banned polygamy in 1890 _ as part of a deal to grant Utah statehood.

According to an AP account in 2001,

  • “Seventy percent of Utah’s 2.1 million people are members of the Mormon church, a church which shuns alcohol. And the state’s liquor laws reflect that.
  • “Utah law requires bars, called private clubs here, to sell individual annual memberships of at least $12 before a person can get a drink. Liquor stores must be state-run and are not open on Sundays,’’  the AP said.

Now,  Schirf Brewing has created a merged bottling operation with  Salt Lake Brewing, maker of Squatter’s beers, and Polygamy Portert’s a regular.

By the way: It’s a great porter: creamy chocolate nose, roast malt taste, fine dry follow. I give it  Three Stars *** — William Brand