Grown-Up Liquor Laws
You knew it, I knew it, and now it's official: According to California's Alcohol Research Group, Utah has some of the most expensive booze in the U.S. because there's no competition—all sales and operations are controlled by state government. Our price markup for wine is the highest in the country, at 88 percent. And the markup for spirits, also 88 percent, is the sixth highest.
Folks who visit here often think we have insanely archaic liquor laws. Many believe we still only sell liquor in mini-bottles at restaurants. But when the Olympics came to town in 2002 our laws conveniently became more lax, allowing visitors to enjoy a cocktail before the torch was lit. You might laugh, but if you wanted a cocktail back in the day, you had to mix it yourself and buy a mini bottle (like the ones on planes) from restaurant hostesses. If you craved a Manhattan or sex on the beach, you'd have to go to a private club and buy a membership—which usually cost $30 per year. For those of us that drank booze and liked to party, we'd have to buy memberships to each and every club. Think about it—you like to go to Bar X, The Green Pig, The Oyster Bar or Funk 'n' Dive at different times. Back then, you'd have to have a card to each bar or club, which would be around $120 per year for just those four.
The private club has virtually disappeared and soon 3.2 beer will also vanish. Utah Beer Wholesalers Association reported that last year Utahns drank 29 percent of the 3.2-percent alcohol-by-volume beer in the U.S., only behind Oklahomans who drank 56 percent. Oklahoma passed a law this last fall allowing for wine and full-strength beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores, and they were just as, if not more, conservative in their drinking laws. Now the boozy floodgates are open and big mainstream breweries are scurrying to cut down on 3.2 beer production. Utah might have a hard time getting its piss water in the future as craft beers take over the planet. Consumers will surely demand that craft beers with higher alcohol content be sold in stores other than state liquor outlets. And if you can get craft beer with, say, 6 percent alcohol, why not allow wine at 10 percent? Changes are coming, Utah. It's only logical. It might also explain why legislators are trying lower the legal driving limit to .05 percent BAC. Who knows?