In a former FLDS enclave, a brewery becomes a conflict-free zone

Edge of the World Brewery serves up beer, and stories, in the Arizona town once dominated by Warren Jeffs.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) An IPA at Edge of the World Brewery in Colorado City, Ariz., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

Colorado City, Ariz. • Suds and stories.

A brewery in the heart of the once polygamous Arizona town of Colorado City is awash in both.

At Edge of the World Brewery, in an area once dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, tourists from abroad and all over the United States mix with locals — both polygamous and monogamists — to catch up, sample craft beer and tell tales.

At first blush, beer and polygamy seem to go together about as well as Mormons and coffee. But the locals say what would be an oxymoron elsewhere works out rather well in the town once governed by disgraced FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for assaulting two underage girls.

Alchemy works its magic at brewery

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ray Hammon, co-owner and head brewer of Edge of the World Brewery in Colorado City, Ariz., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

It’s a strange brew, brewer and business co-owner Ray Hammon admits, but he said the alchemy at Edge of the World keeps the brewery humming and his hired help hopping to slake the thirsts of all the newcomers and old-timers who stream through the doors.

And it’s not just the beer. The brewery also dishes out giant Bavarian-style pretzels, pizza, calzones, salads and desserts — all of which it gets from Berry Knoll, the adjoining business with which the brewery shares the building.

“It’s easy to think of Colorado City and the surrounding area as being this insular FLDS or Mormon fundamentalist community,” said Hammon, who is not part of the polygamous community. “But there are plenty of us who grew up outside of it or in different sects. That’s been a large part of the clientele here.”

That customer base is complemented by tourists navigating Arizona State Road 389 between Zion and Grand Canyon national parks, along with Utahns from nearby St. George and Hurricane seeking sanctuary from Utah’s liquor laws, which ban breweries from serving tap beer stronger than 5% alcohol by volume.

“Utah’s liquor laws drive people to come here for stronger beer,” Hammon said. “Here on the Arizona side of the border, there are no limitations on the beer we serve on tap.”

Craft beers available at the brewery include Belgian Pale Ale, Peach Apricot Wheat, porters and higher-alcohol IPAs. The brewery has 12 taps, eight of which dispense Hammond’s craft beers, and the balance serving specialty ales from Arizona breweries.

Asked about the selection and quantity, brewery regular Jedd Dockstader joked that he has seen and tasted better before adding, for the record, “actually, it’s damn good beer.”

All told, Hammon and two assistants brew enough beer each week to fill six 31-gallon barrels, about 372 gallons total. That’s a far cry from making 15 gallons of beer in an apartment or in a garage, which is how Hammon and his friend Nick Dockstader got their start years ago after graduating from the town’s El Capitan High School.

“YouTube and trial and error,” Hammon said, describing how he learned the brewer’s art. “We never really had any disasters, although some of our beers were less desirable than others. But after a couple of [beers], you couldn’t tell the difference.”

The story, as Hammon tells it, is that he and Dockstader began bottling their beer and serving friends at keg parties. Then they teamed up with Nick’s uncle, Levi Williams, who invested some money in brewery equipment. In 2016, the partners leased their current building on Central Street and began renovating it for the brewery.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mandy Fisher pours a beer at Edge of the World Brewery in Colorado City, Ariz., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

Mayor waxes poetic about evils of liquor

Getting a liquor license from Arizona was relatively easy, but the state did require Hammon and his business cohorts to seek nonbinding input from the Colorado City Town Council, which at the time was composed of FLDS members.

Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred had no power to bar the business, but he wasn’t about to roll out the red carpet for the budding brewers. Instead, at a council meeting, he recited a poem — anonymously written, but often cited — about temperance:

A bar to heaven, a door to hell,

Whoever named it, named it well;

A bar to manliness and wealth,

A door to want and broken health.

A bar to honor, pride and fame,

A door to sin and grief and shame;

A bar to hope, a bar to prayer,

A door to darkness and despair.

A bar to honored, useful life,

A door to brawling, senseless strife;

A bar to all that’s true and brave,

A door to every drunkard’s grave.

A bar to joy that home imparts,

A door to tears and aching hearts;

A bar to heaven, a door to hell,

Whoever named it, named it well.

Allred resigned as mayor in July, after nine years in office. The poem, though, lives on. Would-be Brownings and Wordsworths from nearby Mohave Community College often gather at the brewery on poetry nights, and they read the composition aloud in Allred’s honor.

Hammon quipped that the “brawling” part of the poem is especially overblown.

“We’ve never even had a bar fight,” he said, with a laugh. “We are pretty boring. I think that’s the most notable thing about us.”

Aside from having to listen to a few sermons from town leaders, Hammon said the town has been accommodating in granting all the requisite building licenses and permits. And since Edge of the World officially opened its doors in 2018, the brewer said, he hasn’t heard any complaints.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

Fundamentalists’ views on alcohol

One reason for that tolerance, locals say, is that many fundamentalists have more liberal views about alcoholic libations than their mainstream Latter-day Saint counterparts.

“FLDS members are not completely against alcohol,” said Christine Katas, who acts as an advocate for fundamentalists who live in the area. “They use rum if they are making homemade medicine. I know some FLDS who make homemade wine. But as a general rule, they aren’t big drinkers.”

For members of the Centennial Park polygamous community, who share many FLDS beliefs but not an allegiance to Warren Jeffs, attitudes about alcohol are even more relaxed.

“It’s a big part of the culture to drink,” said brewery manager Margie Williams, a former Centennial member. “You can drink and still be in the good graces of the church.”

Many Centennials are regulars at Hammon’s business. However, FLDS members steer clear of the brewery, although not because of any aversion to alcohol.

Locals say all the homes and businesses in Colorado City and neighboring Hildale on the Utah side of the border were once part of the United Effort Plan, the trust the FLDS church created in 1942.

In response to Jeffs’ sex crimes and misuse of trust money for personal gain, they explain, the state of Utah seized the trust and, in 2015, put former FLDS members in charge of the UEP to sell the properties.

FLDS members who paid taxes and paid a $100 monthly occupancy could stay in their homes.

But rather than pay to stay in what they regarded as church property consecrated to God, many FLDS members left town or were evicted. The Edge of the World’s building was once church property, vacated through eviction.

“Once a building has been evicted, the FLDS tend not to go there,” Katas said.

Over the past several years, many FLDS members in the area have relocated to Cedar City, Kanab and neighboring cities. Katas estimates FLDS members now number less than 15 % of Colorado City’s residents and make up only 3% of Hildale’s population.

That’s a big change from when the FLDS Church controlled every facet of life in the two towns.

Growing up non-FLDS in the area, Hammon said, he was often treated as a second-class citizen. Nonetheless, he said he isn’t interested in talking up the town’s polygamous past or in putting polygamists down. Besides, some of those who once shunned him are now among his legions of friends.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mandy Fisher pours at Edge of the World Brewery in Colorado City, Ariz., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

Checking religion and politics at the door

Indeed, it’s hard to find anyone — regardless of their religious or political persuasion — who has anything bad to say about Hammon.

“I adore Ray. He is a wonderful addition to our community who is always so kind and willing to sit and visit and be a friend,” said Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop, who is ex-FLDS.

Well, Jedd Dockstader’s brother Marion notes that Hammon is a liberal Democrat in a town that supports Donald Trump. “But that’s his right. We still love him,” he said.

What Hammon said he loves about the brewery is that patrons check their politics and religion at the door. He said it is enjoyable to watch the brewery become a neutral meeting place for people who have been separated to set aside their differences and get reacquainted.

“Whether they have been sent away by [FLDS] church authorities or become disenchanted with religion, I try not to comment,” he says. “I view it as a privilege to watch these reunions and moments.”

And if beer-sipping tourists want an anecdote or two about the town’s past, Hammon said there are always a few locals at the brewery who will fill their glass and fill them in.

At least that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.