Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sweet Lion of Zion! Utah Reforms its Liquor Laws

Over the last few weeks there's been a hubbub in Utah involving a serious reformat of the state's liquor laws. Utah has historically had the most stringent alcohol laws of any state. (Arguably at least, several other states are quite restrictive as well.) It's important to remember that roughly 2/3 of the residents of Utah are Mormons, with around 80% of the legislature being a member of the LDS. So alcohol is treated far more as a vice than as a tax source or domestic industry.

Here's some highlights:
  • Utah is one of 18 monopoly states, and all wine and liquor for consumption off-premises must be purchased from state-run stores.
  • "Beer" is limited to 3.2% Alcohol by Weight (so 4% ABV), and may be purchased for consumption on-premises at most restaurants, taverns, airport lounges, etc.
  • Any beer over that is labeled "Heavy Beer" and regulated like liquor.
  • Restaurants may be licensed to serve all liquors, but they must be served to patrons by waitstaff, for on-premises consumption, with food.
  • Utah allows 'Private Clubs' where hard liquor and mixed drinks may be consumed on-premises, and maintains a byzantine system of temporary "memberships" allowing access for visiting patrons.
  • Hours of Sale are restricted, usually Noon-Midnight, never past 1:00 AM.
  • Utah's ratification made it the 36th and final state required to ratify the 21st Amendment.
  • Utah's liquor licenses are distributed according to a ration based on the census, strictly limiting the number of licenses in many areas.
When the Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake in 2002, the tourist outcry over the scarcity of alcohol led to some liberalization, and now in 2009 the state seems to be going through a major overhaul. There are several bills going up, including:
  • Senate Bill 187 - which would replace the private club system with an electronic ID registry, remove the "Zion Curtain" (a glass partition that servers must prepare drinks behind and then bring the drink around to bar patrons by hand) allowing service across bars, and includes a requirement for new restaurants to have a screened area where drinks are prepared out of sight of families and children. Existing restaurants will be grandfathered, and given up to $30,000 to remodel their premises should they wish.
  • House Bill 349 - which would allow draught sales of Heavy Beer, and is controversial amongst Utah's growing craft brewing industry, who have made a name on the strength of their 3.2% beers and the monopoly granted by that restriction. Check out this article on Utah's craft beer scene. A few years ago we drove through and visited several of these breweries and they were quite good. Mmmm Polygamy Porter ("Bring Some Home To The Wives!")
  • House Bill 51 - a homebrewing bill that will bring Utah in line with most of the states in the country, allowing production of 100 gallons of homebrewed beer and wine without a license.
Here's some more posts and articles:

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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.