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.
And we're back. Had to send the ol' laptop in for some much needed TLC. By which I mean an new motherboard and screen.
Washington State Senate Bill 5060 passed through the Senate unanimously on February 27th. Now it's on to the House Labor and Commerce Committee on March 13th. More info at the Washington Homebrewers Association.
Saw this clip on the BBC News this morning. What is most interesting is how these students appear to intuitively grasp the reasons for many aspects of alcohol regulation that were incorporated in the post-prohibition three-tier system in the U.S., (particularly in monopoly states). So for example they talk about how it's good that discount pricing is prohibited, and how they see taxes impacting consumption. Finally, related to the Blue Laws post of a few days back, that perhaps there are reasons people shouldn't be able to buy one Euro 9% ABV Baltic Porters at 6AM on a Sunday...
The Brewer's Association has released their 2009 style guidelines, which can be downloaded in .pdfhere. Charlie Papazian's Beer Examiner article is here.
These guidelines are designed to assist brewers and brewing competitions (including the Oscars and the Emmys of the Beer World: the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup) in classifying and judging commercial beers, while also providing a sort of "State of the Union" concerning what styles are currently produced, which historical styles are being resurrected by craft brewers, and which are fading from production.
This year they added two new styles, bringing the total to 141. The two new styles are:
American-Belgo Style Dark Ales - These dark beers portray the unique characters imparted by yeasts typically used in fruity and big Belgian-style ales.
Session Beer - Ease of drinkability is a character in the overall balance of these beers. Beers in this category must not exceed 4.1% alcohol by weight (5.1% alcohol by volume).
I am actually quite happy with these two new styles. The American-Belgo styles the BA has added over the last couple years reflect the growing acceptance (and commercial success) of innovative American brewers who take the Belgian baselines and run with them. Russian River's Salvation Dark Ale, and other breweries like Lost Abbey, Jolly Pumpkin, New Belgium, Ommegang, Unibroue, and even relative newcomers to the Belgian game like Brooklyn Brewing come to mind. Nonetheless, the Belgian breweries (at least the non-Trappist ones) have never shied from creativity, and recent bottles have shown an similar effect happening in Belgium. For example, HoublonChouffe was first brewed in 2006, and is a Belgian IPA-Tripel...
Similarly, session beers are becoming a marketable style of their own. For example, Full Sail Brewing makes a beer called Session Lager, which is supposed to be an all-pilsner-malt pre-prohibition lager like your grandaddy used to drink. Interestingly, at 5.1% ABA it is on the far maximum of the style... "Lawnmower Beer" (so called because either you want one after mowing the lawn, or because they're low enough alcohol that you can drink them safely while mowing the law. Jury's out on that one.) has been a term in beer circles for a long time, and breweries are cashing in on the term. The best example I can think of is Saint Arnold Brewing's Fancy Lawnmower Beer. However, the original spirit of the term 'session' simply meant a beer you could drink a lot of for hours at a time and not pass-out and wake up half-dead. So this should include a wide variety of Cream Ales, Blondes, American and Mexican light lagers, and pretty much all the British Milds and Bitters. Does this category really define a 'separate' style?
There is also an interesting crossover to TTB labeling regulations here. As written about earlier, the TTB requires a Type/Class designation for all malt beverages. Generally these are: "Malt Beverage containing greater than 0.5% Alcohol by Volume". So most beer styles receive a type designation that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual style itself. I suggested that perhaps the TTB could look to things like the BA Beer Style Guidelines to refine these a bit and prevent larger breweries from watering down styles honed by smaller craft breweries, but that the costs of enforcement and potential stifling of new styles, creating a sort of onerous similarity to French wine appellation tasting panels, would outweigh any benefits. Still, it is interesting to compare the differences in how the industry defines the styles and the government.
It seems that when writing a blog on the internet either one of two things will happen. Either you set out with no particular topic and one developes organically over time, or you set out on a particular topic and it developes into something more. Over the months it seems that this blog was beginning to develope a split-personality, and had strayed slightly from the original core focus on alcohol law issues. So for increased clarity I've placed the past posts on homebrewing, our local/organic CSA, and things like Florida's habit of raining iguanas on a new blog: http://russelleverett.blogspot.com. Updates will continue on both, and they will of course be crosslinked with a blogroll in the left column.
Ok, administrative issues over, time for a new post.
"The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."