Deciphering Utah's insanely strict and very weird liquor laws

Though Ohio still bears the unique distinction of banning boozing with fish, no state claims more baffling liquor laws than Utah. Over in the Beehive State (actual nickname), even the most casual imbibing is regulated by a series of guidelines that have made grown men regret ordering a single brew. We decided to dig into all of Utah's weird liquor legal-speak and break down what it all actually means. The hardest thing to believe? Things used to be so much worse.

Any beer over 4% ABV is considered liquor
In Salt Lake City, nobody can stop you from drinking your fill of Miller 64s. But anything with a slightly more potent ABV is going to be subject to an onslaught of restrictions more nonsensical than "The Nightman Cometh" (which might also be banned in Utah). Under state law, any beer that exceeds 3.2% by weight, or 4% by volume, is considered "liquor". Those not-beers are banned from grocery stores and convenience stores, as well as taverns (i.e. beer bars, clubs, or lounges where beer sale revenue exceeds food sales). You can still order higher ABV beers at restaurants with full-service liquor licenses, but, just like your friends sipping actual liquor, you'll be cut off a full hour early.

Zion curtain
Shauna L. Der /

Bartenders slip behind the Zion curtain to pour your booze
While "Zion curtain" sounds like a magic drape that'll give your drink so much more edge than that dumb Wizard of Oz curtain, it's not nearly that exciting. It's actually a partition restaurants are required to put up so impressionable youths can't see the bartenders mixing or pouring drinks. A lot of them are made of frosted glass like the one above (which kind of looks like a murder scene), but at least one SLC barman works behind a two-way mirror, which he chronicles to hilarious effect on Instagram.

They also break out the measuring spoon for your cocktails
As the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control put it so eloquently in a newsletter, "dispensing systems must be calibrated to pour a quantity of spirituous liquor not to exceed one and a half ounces." Or, in normal people speak, no more than 1.5oz of alcohol in your drank, no exceptions. This means Utah has the worst Long Islands ever.


Bringing booze into Utah is like smuggling cocaine in from Mexico
All alcoholic beverages (which at this point might as well include Yoo-hoo) must be imported or shipped by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Possession of any booze that you didn't buy through them is illegal. Of course, there are loopholes, but they're more hairline cracks than holes. If you're coming from a foreign country and clear customs, you can keep up to two liters for personal use. Or if you have a Summer estate in Zurich second residence outside Utah, you're permitted some booze... with DABC approval, after you pay a fee, and only one time. Accredited foreign diplomatic missions, or inheritances, also clear the law, so you might want to get on becoming an ambassador.

Wanna drink in a restaurant? No hooch until you order food
Here's where the liquor license web of lunacy really starts spinning. So those "taverns" we talked about? They have beer-only licenses, and if you stroll in for a refreshingly watered-down brew, they'll give it to you with little fuss. But if you want the same thing at a restaurant with a liquor license, you will not be served until you get some food. Because it is explicitly against the law to give a customer booze without an additional food order. Also, nice try, slick, but stealing a bread basket from another table won't cut it.

Happy hour sign
Shack Sign

No happy hours for you
Because they promote overconsumption, you won't find any $2 tallboy specials in taverns, restaurants, dining clubs, fight clubs, or social clubs in UT. Not even $2 O'Doul's.

And no kegs either
Unless you're an authorized beer retailer, you can't buy beer in a container larger than 2 liters. This law also leads to the worst substitute for a keg stand in history.

Kristin Hunt is a food/drink staff writer for Thrillist, and has spent years trying to reunite the California Raisins to no avail. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.