Drink Utah

Wasatch Brewery, Park City Utah

Wasatch Brewery, Park City, Utah

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.

Wasatch Polygamy Porter

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.

Menage a Trois

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27 Comments on “Drink Utah”

  1. NewLifeOnTheRoad (@NewLifeOnRoad) September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    In Australia there are only “bottle shops” where beer/spirits and wine is sold – we dont sell it in grocery stores!
    And I can see how crazy the system is in UTAH…wonder who thought of all the laws for drinking?


  2. Cheryl September 21, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Ks has strange laws too. Like Utah grocery store beer has a lower alcohol content than that sold in the liquear stores. And only beer and coolers with a content lower than 3.2% can be sold anywhere other than the liquear stores. And part of the start is still “dry”. Weird.


  3. © Rita Boehm September 21, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Utah softened their laws when the Olympic Games came to Salt Lake. Used to be that you couldn’t buy a glass of wine with your dinner, you had to buy the entire bottle, and you couldn’t take “leftovers” home, it had to be consumed onsite, or left behind.


    • Brian September 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Of course the answer to the waiter when he explains that you have to buy an entire bottle and finish it before you leave because the State’s dominant religion thinks that will somehow deter consumption is . . . “You better bring two bottles.”


  4. Gunta September 21, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    We left Utah in 1994 and, granted, my memory is a bit fuzzy by now…. but I remember it that you didn’t buy the wine, but brought your own and then were charged a fee to have it “served”. It’s a bizarre state, but Salt Lake City has lightened up over time. Once you get south with all the terrific parks, the tourist influence dominates in many of the towns.


    • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      B.Y.O.B. is a wonderful thing. Most of our favorite places allow it. Under current Utah law (as I read it) restaurants with a liquor license are required to permit patrons to bring their own. But in a departure from the normal practice elsewhere (and also from all that is good and just), you can’t BYOB anywhere that doesn’t have a license.


      • Gunta September 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

        Ah yes! I forgot about that part (the license). Still true back in my day.
        I was toying with the thought of heading north. Just how bad is the smoke and haze?


  5. Mel Fernandez September 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Thank you for the love !!


  6. Honie Briggs September 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    That is a nice budge red, for sure. As is 337. If you haven’t already, try it, you’ll like it. 🙂


    • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks for the tip. I don’t think I’ve seen 337. Where is it from?


      • Honie Briggs September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am #

        Born in France – Raised in America
        Noble Vines 337 comes from Cab Sav vine stock in Bordeaux, France to Manteca, California. Priced under $15 here in Texas. http://www.lodiwine.com/vineyards


        • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:33 am #

          Thanks for the info. Will definitely give that a try.


  7. AnilCm September 22, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    Congratulations, I just nominated you for “One Lovely Blog Award”:


  8. hermitsdoor September 22, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    When we visited Moab, we wanted to pick up a six pack of beer to take when visiting our cousins in Grand Junction. Our options were to pick up some from the micro-brew/restaurant in town or drive down the main street, turn left, and hunt behind the Post Office for a parking lot sort of hidden by bushes to find the state liquor store.

    Here in our county of WV, you can get basic beer and wine at the grocery stores, but the rest of the alcohol is sold at two gas stations on either side of the county. Great combo for getting gassed up. I’m sure everyone waits until they get home… but then how do they account for all those beer cans tossed to the side of the road?


    • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am #

      Too funny. My favorites though are the drive through liquor stores. Priceless.


  9. juntosalsur September 22, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    As I recall, Brian and Shannon, during our last visit to the alcohol-ambiguous Great Salt State, we could become “members” of a private dining club for five bucks at the door, then imbibe with comparative freedom. Some great oysters there, too, at the ol’ club. I sure enjoy your blog.


    • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      I think they did away with the “private club” thing, at least as a necessity. We haven’t encountered anything like that while in the state.


  10. Arizona girl September 23, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I lived in Utah for two years while in grad school and was an active member of the ‘counter culture’ (as we called ourselves) 🙂


    • Brian September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      A kindred spirit I see. 🙂


  11. Russell Cavanagh September 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    That is the most extraordinary story about liquor licensing I ever read.

    Here in the UK, brewing on small scale by independents is a burgeoning – http://vimeo.com/50002293 – and this is something I’m most grateful for! 😎


  12. backthewaywecame September 26, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    Hectic! And South Africa may go the same way. Recently the Western Cape in South Africa tried to impose a law forcing clubs and bars to close @ 2am, and restaurants would not being able to sell liquor after 9PM. Imagine! Then again, we have serious social problems stemming from alcohol abuse.


  13. BagspackedI'moff October 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    You can add India (Rajasthan) to the list. I had heard of people being served alcohol in teapots there. This also to circumvent the strange laws regardarding alcohol.
    I did actually receive the beer bottle but on the bill there was written ”cold coffee” Everyone knows what it means but still they do it…….:-)_


  14. RedRoadDiaries October 2, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Great post, brought back memories of dining out in Provo, where we could order drinks but they wouldn’t bring them to us until the food was on the table.


  15. Liz October 5, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    I’ve heard there are still places near the border when people go to Arizona or Nevada to buy liquor from.


    • Brian October 6, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      I don’t doubt it. The liquor stores in Utah are all state owned monopolies so you don’t have a lot of choice and prices are a bit on the high side. We were impressed with their variety, though. In fact, we found a better selection of sake and Champaign in Utah’s state stores than we did anywhere in Idaho.



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