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A depiction of the Wagener Brewery which was located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon near Hogle Zoo before it burned down in 1913. To view this picture in a larger format, click here.
A thirst in the desertAs young boys growing up in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, my childhood chums and I roamed far and wide and often pedaled our bikes from South Salt Lake into the foothills and the mouth of Parleys Canyon, where a wild Parleys Creek flowed out of the canyon, down past Suicide Rock and through old stone ruins. My pals and I would frolic on the tire swing over the creek, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for "Crazy Mary," an alleged axe-wielding murderess said to haunt the place. The figments of an active childhood imagination, I later assumed.
Utah's early settlers liked a drink now and again
As it turns out, there really was a "Crazy Mary." She was a descendent of Joseph Dudler, a pioneer brewer, and she lived in the hollow until her demise in the late 1950s. And those mysterious ruins we'd explored were the remnants of Dudler's Philadelphia Brewery, established in 1864, along with his Dudler's Summer Resort and Saloon, which offered its wares to Mormons and miners, soldiers, trappers, railroad refugees and emigrants-saints and sinners alike.
The Salt Lake Valley today may have a well-deserved reputation as a teetotaling locale, and our liquor laws and peculiarities provide fodder for late-night comedians, but it didn't start out this way. Within three years of the Mormon pioneers arriving in the territory, the first known brewery, the Beach and Blair (1850-1852), was operating in the valley.
Most early information comes from the surviving minutes of the Great Salt Lake City Council in the 1850s and onward. Pioneer John Reese applied for a license to brew a beer made from beets in the late 1840s. By 1851, the city council had passed an ordinance declaring the city's distilleries and breweries to be a nuisance. This decree implies that alcohol-producing operations were many, and because there were few non-Mormon residents in the valley at the time, it seems that from their arrival in the valley in 1847, the locals had worked up a mighty thirst.
After all, many of the early pioneers were immigrants from the British Isles and Scandinavian and other European countries, and liked a good pint now and again. The Germans in particular brought their old-world brewing skills with them to the new country.
Mormon leader Brigham Young, through the city council, regulated, licensed and taxed distilleries and breweries throughout the 1850s. And the Mormon leadership controlled, licensed, regulated and taxed all sale and manufacture of alcohol and spirits in the territory.
By 1856, the notorious Mormon enforcer Orrin Porter Rockwell had established his own roadhouse in Bluffdale, at Point of the Mountain, south of the present-day Utah State prison. Rockwell's Hot Springs Brewery Hotel took advantage of naturally occurring springs along the Jordan Narrows to brew beer, and sold beer and alcohol, as well as rooms and meals to weary travelers.
In 1864, Henry Wagener opened the Henry Wagener Brewery (originally called, for unknown reasons, "The California Brewery") outside of the city limits, at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, to take advantage of Emigration Creek and the natural springs there. The brewery sprawled over 150 acres, encompassing the grounds now occupied by Hogle Zoo, just across the street from the present-day This Is The Place Monument State Park. He later established Wagener's Grove and Wagener's Inn to feed and house his thirsty patrons, who were mainly from the valley below, and soldiers from the nearby Fort Douglas army base. Wagener also operated a series of saloons and retail establishments in and around Main Street downtown as well.
In the early to mid-1860s, one of the largest drinking and gaming establishments in the city was the Salt Lake House, which was controlled by the LDS Church and operated by Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball. In 1871 another Mormon, Richard Bishop Margetts, established the Utah Brewery, which became a large and successful operation-one of only four Utah breweries to later survive prohibition. It was located around the Wasatch or Beck's Hot Springs, on Beck Street, at the northern edge of the city. Jacob Moritz and others established the Salt Lake City Brewing Company in 1871. The brewery building still stands at the old Fuller's Hill and Fuller's Pleasure Gardens, where 400 South curves into 500 South below the University of Utah. There used to be ice ponds there at the nearby creek during spring runoff, and the brewery made full use of both the streams and the ice.
Even the venerated ZCMI, the Mormon co-op stores founded by Brigham Young in 1868 to combat the Gentile incursion into Zion, had a liquor department and regularly sold beer, wine and hard liquor under its own label. ZCMI also sold the locally revered "Mormon whiskey" or "Valley Tan," which was made by C.E. Johnson and family. Johnson, a young pharmacist who worked at ZCMI, would become famous as the inventor of Valley Tan Whiskey. ZCMI also manufactured "V.T.R." or Valley Tan Remedy, a patent medicine which contained alcohol as its main ingredient and was purported to be Brigham Young's favorite (remedy, not whiskey).
Noted 19th-century explorer and author Capt. Richard Burton and author Mark Twain were both introduced to Valley Tan Whiskey on their respective visits here in the 1860s. Burton allegedly enjoyed a jug with the infamous Orrin Porter Rockwell, while Twain opined that Valley Tan was "a kind of a whiskey, or first cousin to it-it is of Mormon invention and manufactured only in Utah."
The heydays of brewing and distilling in frontier Utah were brought to an abrupt end when Utah ratified the 19th Amendment, enacting prohibition throughout the United States in 1917. Upon prohibition's repeal in 1933, only Becker's and Fisher Breweries were still operating. By the 1960s, both Becker's and Fisher were gone, and no new brewery licenses were granted until 1984 when Greg Schirf began the Uinta Brewey in Park City. A Park City distillery recently became the first distillery to operate in Utah in more than 100 years.
Today, more than two dozen breweries, a half-dozen wineries and one distillery dot the state. All doing their best to quench any and all thirst in the desert.