Have you ever visited a grocery store in another state and marveled at their liquor aisle? Do you know the disappointment of finding you’re out of wine hours before Sunday dinner? Or maybe you daydream about being able to order from BEVMO, purchasing Prosecco from Costco, or grabbing a bottle of Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. These are common side effects of living in Utah.
The liquor laws in Utah are admittedly stringent. The legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) is the lowest in the nation at .05%. There are very specific regulations on when, where, and how much alcohol can be purchased, which will be covered later in this article.
But Utah is not the only teetotaling state in the nation. Our friends in Pennsylvania report that liquor laws are as tight as in Utah. Many Southern states have dry counties, meaning the government forbids the sale of any kind of alcoholic beverage. Packaged drinks cannot be sold after 10pm in New Jersey and beer is not sold in grocery stores there.
Additionally, Utah’s laws have loosened over the past few decades, particularly since hosting the Olympics in 2002. Private club memberships are thankfully a thing of the past. As of November 2019, grocery stores and convenience stores are able to sell beer with up to 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). The notorious Zion Curtain, a partition to shield bartenders’ work from innocent eyes, was removed from restaurants in 2017.
Here are some of the current, most talked about, and hard to remember rules for imbibing in Utah. Or like we call it, the ABCs of the DABC.
- The legal drinking age is 21. You must provide valid identification when entering bars or purchasing alcoholic drinks.
- Any establishment that serves alcohol must obtain a liquor license from the state of Utah, which is a lengthy and expensive process. There are a few types of licenses (i.e. full service, limited service, beer only) each having different privileges. Any business with a liquor license must abide by the state’s strict standards or they risk losing their license. These regulations are taken very seriously and staff are well trained on how to enforce the rules.
- Packaged liquor, wine, and high-point beer (higher than 5% ABV) are sold exclusively at state liquor stores throughout Utah. These stores are closed on Sundays and holidays. Hours vary depending on the location, always check before you go. Beer, hard seltzers, and other drinks with 5% or less ABV are available in grocery and convenience stores seven days a week.
The Specifics for Restaurants and Bars
- Alcoholic drinks in Utah cannot be purchased without food at a restaurant. This rule does not apply to breweries, bars, or taverns.
- You are only allowed to have one cocktail per person on the table at a time. Wine can be purchased by the bottle but pitchers of beer are not allowed.
- Utah Bartenders must use The Berg (a small device attached to bottles) to measure out a precise 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. This makes for less potent cocktails than you might find in states where bartenders are allowed to free pour.
- Ski resorts, hotels, and airports have special exemptions from some of these laws.
- Restaurants and bars can only serve high-point beer in cans or bottles, not on draft.
The Specifics for Beer
- Utah’s laws pertaining to beer are complex to say the least. Many of the regulations have to do with alcohol content. This can be confusing because a beer’s alcohol content can be measured by weight or by volume.
- Beer with up to 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) can be purchased from grocery and convenience stores until 1am, seven days a week. Any beer with an ABV higher than 5% is sold only in state-run liquor stores and specially licensed facilities.
- It’s illegal to sell or possess beer in any container larger than 2 liters in Utah. No kegs, no party balls. But you can get your 64 ounce growlers filled by local breweries. And Salt Lake City has dozens of excellent breweries: Squatter’s, Red Rock, Uinta, Epic, and Desert Edge just to name a few.
Now, who’s ready for a drink?
Sure, there are additional hurdles on the way to enjoying a cocktail in the Beehive State. But where there’s a will, and some advance planning, there’s a way. Read our article Getting into the Holiday Spirit(s) for recommendations on where to get a drink or where to find the ingredients to make your own. Cheers!