DEMYSTIFYING UTAH'S LIQUOR LAWS
Contrary to popular belief, attempting to purchase alcohol in the great state of Utah will not result in public shaming, corporal punishment, or being dragged into the nearest church for a thorough interrogation. Once you learn a little more about Ski City’s quirky liquor laws, you may find it’s easier than you thought to obtain and enjoy your preferred beverage (even full-strength beer) on any given day of the week.
UTAH’S DRINK DEFINITIONS
Here’s what you need to know about how Utah classifies alcoholic beverages:
Liquor and Wine are self-explanatory. Both are available at “clubs” (full-service bars as defined by Utah) and appropriately licensed restaurants, and available for purchase from state liquor stores or package agencies.
Heavy Beer is defined as any beer or malt beverage with over 4.0% ABV (or 3.2% alcohol by weight). Basically, full-strength beer. It’s sold by the bottle or can at clubs, restaurants, and state liquor stores or package agencies.
Beer includes suds with up to 4.0% ABV. This is what you’ll find for sale in grocery stores and gas stations, and on draft in restaurants and bars.
OUT ON THE TOWN
If you’re headed out for drinks, know that there are several different types of liquor licenses issued to establishments in Utah. Below are the major categories and what you can expect from each.
Clubs are full-service bars that sell liquor, wine, heavy beer, and beer. Don’t be thrown off by the terminology: “club” doesn’t necessarily imply laser lights and people dressed to the nines, it’s simply been carried over from the days when bars were required to sell private memberships to thirsty patrons (fortunately, that law was repealed years ago). Salt Lake has hundreds of clubs in multiple forms including bars, live music venues, nightclubs, and more. They may or may not sell food, but you’re not required to purchase any in order to buy drinks. You can order any type of drink from 10:00 a.m. right up until last call at 1:00 a.m.
Restaurants require you to order food alongside alcoholic drinks, and will have one of three distinct types of alcohol licenses. Full-Service restaurants offer a full drink menu just like you’d find at a club. Limited-Service locations provide heavy beer, wine, and beer. Beer-Only restaurants sell—you guessed it—beer. Specifically of the 4.0%-ABV-and-under variety. Don’t be turned off by the food requirement, however; a small app or side to share among a large group will do the trick, as your server may suggest with a wink. Restaurants serve liquor, wine, and heavy beer from 11:30 a.m. until midnight, and beer until 1:00 a.m.
On-Premise Beer up to 4.0% ABV is also available at other locations like taverns, beer bars, lounges, bowling alleys, arenas, and many more. There is no food requirement to purchase drinks from these establishments, which can provide you with draft beer, bottles, and cans from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m.
BUYING YOUR OWN
Prefer to imbibe in your hotel, condo, or the resort parking lot? No problem—you’ve got options.
State Liquor & Wine Stores are government-operated outlets spread across the state (there are over a dozen in the Salt Lake City area alone). State liquor stores offer a large selection of liquor, wine, and heavy (full-strength) beer. One drawback of these stores is that the beer is not refrigerated, so it’ll require some planning in order to make sure your beverages are frosty cold by the time you’re ready to enjoy them. Hours vary by location, but all state-run stores are closed on Sundays and holidays.
Package Agencies are stores contracted by the state to sell liquor, wine, and heavy beer. They’re often located in resorts or hotels for the convenience of visitors (Solitude, Alta, The Canyons, and Deer Valley all have onsite package agencies, for example). You’ll also find them in smaller towns where there isn’t enough demand for a full-sized state outlet. Some of these retailers may be open on Sundays and holidays.
Breweries & Distilleries are also classified as package agencies and are allowed to sell their goods (including liquor and heavy beer) to the general public. Squatters/Wasatch, Epic, Bohemian, Red Rock, and Uinta breweries all sell high-percentage ABV beers to the general public, and Bohemian and Epic are even open on Sundays. Much to the delight of local craft-beer enthusiasts, the freshly bottled brews are also kept ice cold. If you’re looking for something a little stiffer on a Sunday, visit one of the High West distilleries either in the airport or in Park City for some locally made spirits.
Grocery & Convenience Stores in Salt Lake County sell beer (up to 4.0% ABV) from 7:00 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week. Other areas of Utah may differ from this policy, as the state leaves regulation of non-heavy beer sales up to individual jurisdictions.
OTHER STUFF TO KNOW
The maximum allowed liquor content of any mixed drink is 2.5 fluid ounces of liquor or flavored spirits, so bear this in mind if your Long Island iced tea doesn’t seem to pack quite the same punch. The 2.5-oz limit means doubles are not allowed; however, ordering a beer or mixed drink with a shot on the side is fine, as long as the shot is not the same type of liquor served in your mixed drink. Although if you were (hypothetically) ordering whiskey and cola, and your drinking partner happened to be (hypothetically) sipping on gin and tonic, you could each order your cocktails and a shot of whatever the other person is having, and then make the ol’ switcharoo after you’ve both been served. Hypothetically.
Finally, remember that Salt Lake sits at over 4,000 feet above sea level, with the ski resorts another several thousand feet above that. Everyone is more sensitive to the effects of alcohol at higher elevations, and even if you’re drinking 4.0% ABV beer, you may still feel tipsy much sooner than anticipated. So go forth and drink—just do so responsibly.
Words: TJ Parsons