8 States With The Strangest Alcohol Laws
January 27, 2016
By Mary Beth Quirk
THE BOOZE BIZ ALCOHOL BOOZE BEER WINE LAWS SPIRITS
What’s the first thing you do to prepare for a trip to another state? After finalizing your packing list, looking up the law of the land should be on your list — especially if you’re planning on drinking any beer, wine, or liquor while you’re there.
Say you’re some film studio executive traveling to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, this week. Are you allowed to order two drinks at a time? (Answer: yes, but you can’t order a double) Do you have to have a membership to a bar in order to get your swerve on? (Answer: no, but you may have to order food).
A number of states have laws and regulations you might not expect to run up against when you head out for a night (or afternoon, or morning) on the town, so read up and make your plans accordingly. Or you know, store up some good party conversation starters. Will we cover every weird law out there? Definitely not, but it’s a good start.
Drinking in restaurants: There are a few things you have to know if you’re planning on imbibing at a food establishment.
- You don’t have to physically shove potato skins or chicken fingers down your throat, but if you’re drinking at a restaurant, you will have to order some kind of food if you want alcoholic beverages delivered to the table. It can be a plate of jalapeño poppers for everyone to share, but it has to be there.
- If you’re drinking at a restaurant that opened after July 2012, bartenders will mix your drink where you can’t see it — known jokingly as the “Zion Curtain.” This rule does not apply to bars and clubs.
“Utah beer”: Beer sold in grocery stores is 3.2% alcohol by weight (also known as three-two beer), but is 4.0% by volume, the standard measurement. You can get high-point beer — anything over 4.0% ABV — at most bars and restaurants, but it has to be served in bottles. Any draft beer must be 4.0% ABV.
Booze to go: Full-strength wine, beer, and liquor can be bought from state liquor stores (except on Sundays and major holidays), breweries, distilleries, wineries, and some hotels and resorts.
Double-fisting: Each cocktail can contain up to 2.5 ounces of liquor. Yes, you can have more than one in front of you at a time, but you can’t make it a double or order a sidecar.
The ins and outs of Utah’s drinking rules are available on the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control page as well.
Afternoon delight: Technically, there are no happy hours in Indiana — while a bar can offer all-day drink specials, state law prohibits retailers from selling alcoholic beverages during a portion of the day for a reduced cost. That 30-year-old ban may change with this year’s legislative session, however: Rep. Tom Dermody has filed a bill [PDF] that would remove the state’s restriction, the Associated Press reported recently.
No cold beer at grocery stores: An appeals court in Indiana recently upheld a state law that says grocery and convenience stores can’t sell cold beer, the Indy Star reported.
Stop in the name of Sundays: Indiana is one of 12 states that currently prohibits the sale of spirits on Sundays — but it’s the only state that also bans wine and beer sales on that day as well. It’s also the sole state that bans carryout sales while allowing bars, restaurants, and sports venues to sell booze.
Grocery stores can’t sell liquor, wine, or full-strength beer: Liquor stores, breweries, vintners, and distilleries are the only places you can legally buy beer and wine that’s full strength in the Rocky Mountain state, with grocery stores and other venues left out of the mix. There’s a coalition pushing to rewrite those alcohol laws, according to the Denver Post, but it won’t try to expand sales of liquor in the state as part of that ballot campaign.
No food can be sold at liquor stores: On the other hand, if you’re looking for a snack while perusing liquor store aisles for booze, you better hope it works as part of a cocktail. Colorado law says liquor stores “are prohibited from the sale of food items except those approved by the State Licensing Authority that are prepackaged, labeled, directly related to the consumption of liquor, and are sold in containers up to 16 ounces for the purpose of cocktail garnish.”
The state runs the show: Pennsylvania allows sales of bottled wine and liquor only through a state-run network of more than 600 “state stores.” Residents are also prohibited from buying alcohol outside the Keystone state and bringing it across the border. There is legislation pending in the state that would allow for some wine to be shipped to Pennsylvania addresses, but there’s been no movement on that bill since mid-2015.
Beer bust: If you want beer, it isn’t sold at grocery stores or those state liquor stores. Instead, you have to go to a beer distributor or beverage outlet, where, until very recently, you could only buy cases or kegs. In late 2015, the state’s liquor authority let distributors know that they could also sell 12-packs. Picking up a six-pack of beer means going to a bar or restaurant, or a bodega with a sit-down eating area. In those cases, each customer is limited to two six-packs (or up to 192 ounces), maximum.
Unhappy hour: Massachusetts law not only bans afterwork happy hours but also any other kind of drink special — fixed-price open bars, all-you-can-drink, free drinks, drinks as prizes. In fact, it was the first state to do so back in 1984, according to Boston Magazine. Private functions aren’t included in the law.
Lawmakers tried and failed in 2014 to get the ban on happy hours repealed.
Portion control: A patron cannot have more than two drinks at any one time, and pitchers aren’t allowed unless you have more than two people. You can order a bottle of wine to go with your meal if you’re dining alone, but if you aren’t eating food that bottle has to be for at least two people.
You’re too big: In 1995, the Texas Legislature [PDF] forbid public companies with more than 35 shareholders from selling hard liquor in the state. That simply won’t do for Walmart, which is currently suing Texas over the law. A court date in that case is currently set for Sept. 2016.
Some businesses have been able to get around the package store law through a loophole that allows closely related family members to pool their package store permits into a single entity and, according to Walmart, “collectively obtain an unlimited number of package store permits.”
St. Patrick’s Day Sundays are special: Like many other states, Maine has rules about when alcohol can be consumed on-premises. For most of the year, alcohol can only be purchased after 9 a.m. on Sundays — unless that day is St. Patrick’s Day, in which case you can start buying booze starting at 6 a.m.
Owners of Irish pubs pushed for the change in state law, so they could serve alcohol for a few more hours on the busiest day of the year. Governor Paul LePage signed that exception into law in March 2013, reported the Bangor Daily News. St. Patrick’s happened to be on a Sunday that year. The next time March 17 falls on a Sunday will be 2019.
Booze is not a game: Any practice designed to get customers to drink more — like, say, a drinking game — is banned from bars and restaurants, and alcoholic beverages can’t be awarded as prizes.
Slow down: Bar and restaurant patrons can’t be served more than two boozy beverages at a time.
No warming up at happy hour: Establishments that sell alcohol can’t peddle drinks at “a price less than the price regularly charged for the beverages during the same calendar week,” private functions excluded, according to state law. Alaskan bartenders also can’t give out free drinks.
Two at a time: Bartenders and other servers can’t deliver a third drink to someone already in possession of two other alcoholic beverages.