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Unlike Pioneer Day, which can trace back to July 24, 1847, the day when Latter-day Saint settlers first came over the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley, the origins of Pie ‘n’ Beer Day are murky.
Sometime in the early aughts, people started holding informal get-togethers in backyards across the valley to drink beer and eat pie as an alternative to Utah’s traditional Pioneer Day celebrations.
The first public celebration of Pie ‘n’ Beer Day, though, can be affixed to 2014 — when “Bad” Brad Wheeler, then the drive-time DJ for KRCL, organized a fundraiser for the station at Salt Lake City’s Beer Bar.
“At first, when I brought it up, it sounded kind of gross, but it was like, no — this thing has legs,” Wheeler said. “I think some people were like, ‘OK, go ahead and fail, Brad Wheeler.’ But then, two days later, The New York Times called and wanted to do an interview about pie and beer.”
Wheeler said he was scared to death when he saw the size of the crowd that showed up on July 24: the line stretched down the block and around the corner. “I literally got on top of a table and said, ‘Please nobody move faster, or fall down, because the whole room is going to fall down.’”
The event proved to be so popular, he said, it soon sprawled into the parking lot behind the bar, and the setup included a dunk tank.
“Anybody could get in the dunk tank,” Wheeler said. “You’d see the brewers get into the dunk tank, I think Princess Kennedy got in the dunk tank, I got in the dunk tank…so one year, we’re watching people get into the dunk tank, and Kyle Mooney gets up and gets into the dunk tank. He’s just like, ‘Heyyyy!’ It was insane.” (Mooney, then a star on “Saturday Night Live,” was in town filming the 2017 indie comedy/drama “Brigsby Bear,” which he wrote and played the lead.)
Around the same time, the Food Channel was in Salt Lake City, reporting on food trucks, and stopped by. “They were like ‘What? We didn’t know this was going on back here,’” Wheeler said. “And by the way, Ty Burrell was over there serving pie. And you could see the looks on their faces, like, what did we just accidentally fall into?” (Burrell, then the star of “Modern Family,” is an owner of the bar.)
Music added to the mix
Pie ‘n’ Beer Day, like many in-person events, got canceled during the pandemic. It’s back in person this year, but due to construction downtown, Beer Bar no longer has access to the parking lot behind its building.
So this year’s celebration — on Sunday, July 24 from noon to 6 p.m — Pie ‘n’ Beer Day jumps to The Gateway. (Because Pioneer Day falls on a Sunday, the Days of ‘47 Parade happens on Saturday, so those who are so inclined can comfortably do both.) Organized by The Blocks and KUAA 99.9 FM, where Wheeler is now station manager, the event promises 9,000 slices of pie from 24 local bakeries, paired with beers from 24 Utah breweries.
A new twist this year is the Locally Made, Locally Played Music Festival, which is set to offer live performances all day from Sara Degreaw, Nathan Spenser, Michelle Moonshine, Timmy the Teeth and The Proper Way, while people circulate for pie and beer tastings.
Day passes are $40, and include five beers and five pieces of pie. There are always savory options, like pizza or macaroni and cheese pie — and for the first time this year, there will be shoofly pie — a crumb-filled molasses pie that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.
Pairing beer with pie
If you’re nervous about the delicate process of pairing pie and beer, not to worry: bakeries and breweries have been matched up and are synching their recipes. Shades Brewing — which just received its bar license, and can now sell its high-point beers at its tap room on July 24 — is working with Dominique Wilson of Pies The Limit, who’s participating for the first time. Every bakery is donating 20 pies; Wilson is baking 10 raspberry key lime pies and 10 blueberry sour cream to pair with Shades’ raspberry pistachio beer.
“Instead of match.com, we’re just going to start our own little thing called pie and beer dot com,” Wilson joked. “We’re going to match up your beer, we’re going to match up your pie. If you find love in between all of that, I guess we’re doing a good job.”
Both of his pies will pair well with the beer, he said, which is a sour. The blueberry sour cream, he added, isn’t super sweet, but you get tanginess from the fresh blueberries, the sour cream and a touch of lemon.
“The raspberry key lime has a little hint of sour cream, just to mellow out the tartness of the lime, and the raspberry,” Wilson said. “But it still has enough sweetness with the ginger and the cinnamon and the graham cracker crust, it’s a match made like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.”
Kurt Flickinger of Shades said the brewery started experimenting with pie beers through its Kveik sour beer series, long before they participated in Pie ‘n’ Beer Day.
“We did one, a peach cobbler, which was peaches, vanilla, cinnamon, graham crackers and lactose. It just blew up,” Flickinger said. Since then, he added, they have brewed cherry pie, all-berry pie, lemon meringue and strawberry rhubarb beers.
When Shades brews pie beer, he said, “it’s like putting everything together in one little vessel. It tastes like pie, because we put real graham crackers in there. Like we go across the street to the grocery store and buy boxes of graham crackers, smash them up and put them in the vat. We use real raspberry puree, so there’s real raspberries in there.”
The first time people tried pie beer, he said, “they were dumbfounded about how it works, and we sold out of it at the Pie ‘n’ Beer event. I brought the cases I needed to, and then it sold out, and people were ordering it out of the back of Beer Bar. People were like, ‘Where can we get this? This is unbelievable.’ And I’m like, ‘We have it for sale at the brewery to go.’ And like minutes later I got text messages that were like, ‘Yeah, we’re sold out at the brewery. We sold out of the beer within like hours.’”
Now that Pie ‘n’ Beer Day is back in commission, Wheeler would love to have Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg attend one year. Or get a Guinness Book or World Records entry for most pieces of pie served. Or to stage a parade that one day might even match the Days of ‘47, float for float. “I am trying to push this into culinary legend,” he said.
For now, though, if you haven’t been to a Pie ‘n’ Beer Day, prepare to expand your ideas about what pie and beer can be — that beer can taste like pie, and pie can be made with funeral potatoes.
Pie ‘n’ Beer Day, Wheeler said, “is a way to experience food and beer that you otherwise don’t experience, and it comes from a place of love. These people are excited to celebrate this day. They’re bringing their game.”
Wasatch Brew Pub
Participating bakeries/pie donations:
Bricks Corner Pizza
Eggs in the City
Flake Pie Co.
Ken Garff Athletic Club
Pies the Limit
Rocky Mountain Pies
Stein Eriksen Lodge
Wasatch Brew Pub