It’s hard not to be a little disappointed. From all we had heard about Utah’s liquor laws we thought going there would be like visiting some bizarre alternate universe where drinks could be served but not seen. So great was the hype about Utah’s toughest in the nation alcohol restrictions that we contemplated smuggling our own stash over the border like modern day Al Capones.
But our laziness bested our ambition, and we failed to stock our cupboards before arriving. At least, we figured, we’d accumulate stories about harried adventures navigating Prohibition-style liquor laws. What we found instead was all too ordinary, if only because most of the rest of the country is no less bonkers when it comes to booze.
The cognitive dissonance we discovered in Utah over wanting to profit from alcohol sales while simultaneously prohibiting its consumption is hardly unique. Our home state of New York prevents retailers of beer from also offering wine and liquor. In Florida, the Pensacola Bay Brewery can’t legally sell its product on premises but can sell glasses that it fills with “free” beer. Much of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail runs through “dry counties” prompting the legislature to create a loophole allowing the sale of whisky at historic sites.
Utah has its own peculiarities, but nothing overly daunting or particularly unusual – at least from a retail patron’s perspective. Some are humorous, like the presence of communist-style state run liquor store monopolies in this deeply conservative state. Others are inconvenient, like the inability to get a full flight of beers at a brew pub. And some are sneaky, like limitations on the alcohol content of beers sold in the grocery store. Who knew grocery store six-packs are gimped?
And yet the “communist” liquor stores offered a decent selection at reasonable prices. We could even arrange for a flight of beers at the bar as long as they weren’t all served at once. Ordering one or two samples at a time isn’t much more of a hardship than getting them all together. But it begs the question: Why can I order a single 16-ounce glass of beer but not four, four ounce samples? I guess by Utah’s reasoning one is less than four, regardless of their relative sizes.
We also found Utah to have a pretty healthy sense of humor about the whole thing. We particularly appreciated Wasatch Brewery’s Polygamy Porter with its tag line, “Why have just one!” And we were glad to see that the state-run liquor stores even carried one of our favorite budget reds; a nice complement to the Polygamy Porter, I think.