Despite, what you may have heard, yes you can get a drink in Utah. While Utah liquor laws might be the subject of much playful media mocking – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find here. Utah is far from the dry state many think it to be. We definitely have our own esoteric rules, but none that should stop you having a fun (and responsible!) time here in Utah.
What’s with all this 3.2 stuff I hear about
One of the biggest misconceptions about drinking in Utah, is the notion we only have access to ‘3.2 beer’. That confusion arises from the fact the state of Utah judges alcoholic content of drinks by weight, a rather anachronistic system that most of the world stopped using aeons ago. 3.2 by weight actually equates to 4% by volume – yep that’s right – the same rough strength as most sessionable world beers (e.g. Guinness is usually 4.2% by volume).
Another slight quirk is that you won’t find beer stronger than 4% volume on tap in any Utah bar. Depending on the bar though, you may find varieties of higher strength brews offered by the bottle – just not on draft.
One slight caveat is that wine and cider are (presently) not covered by this rule – you may see wine and cider on draft.
What about cocktails
The legal maximum pour is a metered 1.5 ounces, there are no free pours in Utah. However a mixed drink may comprise 1.5 ounces primary liquor and additional full ounce provided the extra ounce comes from a bottle clearly marked ‘flavoring’, and differs from the first. E.g. a vodka tonic with 2.5 ounces vodka would not be permissible, but a drink like a Vesper using vodka and gin may be allowable (if the gin was marked solely as flavoring).
Buying drinks in a restaurant
One of the most confusing set of laws for visitors to Utah, is our rules covering imbibing at a restaurant. Much of this stems from the various licenses the state allows restaurants to apply for. The most coveted license – full service – allows a restaurant to sell all types of alcohol. More readily available are beer and wine licenses, which you guessed it, allows the restaurant to sell beer and wine.
Garnering much press in 2013 was the debate over our ‘intent to dine laws’. Regardless of license, all restaurants must gauge a diners ‘intent to dine’ before allowing a diner to order a drink. Generally you will find your server merely asks you ‘are you dining with us tonight’ after you sit down, and you’re free to order a drink, while you peruse the menu if you indicate you will be also eating. Ordering just a small snack or nibble is fine too, but you must order at least one item of food from the menu.
You may find yourself in a restaurant that seemingly does let you order drinks without ordering food – these are in fact technically bars who operate under a full service bar license. This also means those under 21 won’t be able to dine there.
Finally we have the much derided ‘Zion Curtain’ – a term referring to the divider that separates bartenders and their preparation of drinks from customers. Restaurants opened after the inception of the 2010 legislation must banish said drinks and prep from the view of customers, either to a back room or behind frosted glass say. Those open prior to the law’s enactment are grandfathered in, and need not comply.
Buying drinks in a bar
Most bars have full liquor licenses, meaning they’re able to purchase anything you or I can buy from the liquor store, and retail at a fair markup to their customers. You may have heard about our private club rules – they were dropped years ago. This means anyone can now drop into any bar they like – provided they’re over the age of 21. While individual bars may keep their own hours, they’re legally allowed to open seven days a week and serve from 10.00am till 1.00am. Patrons legally need to be off the premises by 2am.
Some outlets may retain only a ‘tavern license’. These might be smaller beer bars or locations such as bowling alleys or golf courses – they only sell beer upto 4% on draft, can or bottle, nothing more. Most bars you will come across in SLC will retain full liquor licenses, its difficult these days to find beer only bars.
Just for fun, the rules at our airports are unique too. In airport lounges – liquor, wine and beer can be served from 8.00am until midnight. Alcoholic beverages may be sold with or without food, and patrons may be served at a bar or table.
Buying drinks to go
At grocery and convenience stores you will find alcoholic beverages upto 4% by volume, available for purchase until 11.00pm. You may purchase beverages seven days a week from these locations.
Generally speaking, for anything stronger you will need to visit one of our Utah State Liquor Stores. Here you will find everything from stronger beers through wines and liquor.
Each store varies in both hours of operation and stock carried. All close Sundays and public holidays.
The exception to the above rules are Package Agencies – defined by the state as “liquor outlets operated by private individuals or corporate entities under contract with the state for the purpose of selling packaged liquor, wine and beer to the general public for off-premise consumption”. Package agencies are often ran in smaller towns, businesses, or at resorts where it makes little sense for a fully fledged State Liquor Store.
Crucially important to note is that some of our finest home grown brewers and distillers are marked as “Type 5” package agencies. For example you can go pick up the nationally recognized brews of Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City or the whiskies of High West in Park City – seven days a week.
* Type 5 package agencies may also be open on Sundays and state and federal holidays if the package agency is located at a manufacturing facility licensed by the commission and the manufacturing facility holds a full-service restaurant license, a limited-service restaurant license, a beer-only restaurant license, or a dining club license.