Beer Stories

Valley Tan

A brief history of Brigham Young’s Mormon Moonshine.



One of the first industries introduced in the Salt Lake Valley was leather tanning. From that beginning the term, “valley tan” was coined to denote any article of home manufacture. According to Edward W. Tullidge in his History of Salt Lake City, “The term ‘valley-tan’ soon became, and is now, rather a derogatory expression, applied indiscriminately to any rough home-made article including whiskey.”

Valley Tan remedies bottle, brewed and sold in ZCMI

A locally distilled whiskey bore the name Valley Tan. It was distilled from wheat and potatoes. George Latrop, a driver on the Cheyenne-Blackhills Stage, described it as being, “made of horned toads and Rocky Mountain rattlesnakes.”  Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “it is made of imported fire and brimstone.” It was sold in ZCMI along with other liquors to compete with “gentile” stores for much needed cash.

The Johnson family, Joseph E. and his son C.E. Johnson, used the name for their patent medicines, V.T.R. or Valley Tan Remedy. The V.T.R. medicines, including a “Cough Cordial,” “Canker Syrup” and “Eye Salve,” were also featured at ZCMI.

Valley Tan was the name given to the second established newspaper in Salt Lake in 1858. Kirk Anderson started the paper as an alternative to the predominantly Mormon press. It gave a voice to other residents of the valley, but was seen as widely anti-Mormon. The newspaper explained their choice of title in the first issue on November 6, 1858.   “The Valley Tan was first applied to the leather made in this Territory in contradistinction to the imported article from the States: it gradually began to apply to every article made or manufactured or produced in the Territory, and means in the strictest sense Home Manufacturers, until it has entered and become an indispensable word in our Utah vernacular; and it will yet add a new word to the English language. Circumstances and localities form the mint from which our language is coined, and we therefore stamp the name and put it into circulation!”

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