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A bartender pours a glass of wine.

By Jed Doane

A Refresher on Utah's Liquor Laws

In preparation for your next visit to Utah, here’s what you need to know before you belly up to the bar or seek out a bottle of your favorite spirit.

Photos by Nicole Morgenthau and Jeremiah Watt

At one time, strict laws on alcohol made enjoying an adult beverage in Utah a little more challenging. Since the 2002 Winter Olympics (and especially during the last decade), notable changes to these regulations have made it much easier for visitors to Utah to drink up — even if misconceptions still abound. In preparation for your next visit to Utah, here’s what you need to know before you belly up to the bar or seek out a bottle of your favorite spirit.

Before heading out, please note that it is illegal to bring any alcohol into Utah with you. With the more relaxed laws around alcohol, however, there isn’t a need. (See exceptions and other Utah liquor law frequently asked questions for more detail.)

A bartender pours a glass of liquor

Distillery 36. Photo: Nicole Morgenthau

The Scoop on Liquor

If you enjoy cocktails and spirits, you’ll notice Utah pours its shots through a contraption called The Berg, which is required by state law. The Berg helps bartenders pour precise 1.5-ounce shots of “primary liquor” in a mixed drink (of up to 2.5 ounces total), which means your cocktails might not hit as hard as they do in other states. But despite that, you’ll find plenty of delicious, expertly crafted cocktails in Utah. You can visit several new and established local distillers, which make just about anything you could want. Just one example is the nationally distributed High West Whiskeys (located in Park City), which will take you back to the Old West with each sip. (Discover more distilleries in Utah Spirits Tour or on visitutah.com’s distilleries page.)

What’s Up with the Beer?

Yes, you can buy beer in Utah that’s over 3.2% alcohol by volume (ABV). In fact, starting in November 2019, a new bill replaced the 86-year-old law stating that 3.2% beer was the alcohol limit for brewing. It allows beers with 4% alcohol by weight or 5% ABV to be sold in grocery stores, convenience stores and on draft at bars and restaurants. You can also get higher ABV brews at state liquor stores. (Read: Welcome to the 5%: New Liquor Laws Support Utah's Vibrant Craft Brew Scene.)

Restaurants and Bars

Longtime visitors to Utah will remember the days of the “private club,” when Utah bars were required to charge a cover or membership fee. While that time has passed, all establishments are still mandated to have clear signage indicating their status as a restaurant, bar, or club. It’s an important differentiation as each has a different set of expectations regarding alcohol.

  • For bars and clubs, anyone 21 years or older with a valid ID is free to walk in and have a drink, but customers under 21 are not allowed in the bar or lounge areas. Last call for alcohol is generally 1 am, and bars must close by 2 am.

  • At restaurants, alcoholic drinks can only be served with food, but at breweries or any beer-only establishments, food is not required to order a beer.

  • Restaurants and bars can serve draft beer up to 5% and higher ABV beers from the can or bottle.

  • You can only buy beer and spirits one drink at a time, so that means no pitchers of beer or your favorite adult beverage. You can purchase wine by the glass or the bottle.

A female brewer pours a fresh batch.

Jacquie King, head brewer at Roosters Brewing Co. Photo: Nicole Morgenthau

What You Can Buy and Where

Whether you are looking for a bottle of vino, a six-pack or a bottle of hard alcohol, there are rules around what you can buy where:

  • Grocery stores and convenience stores: You can buy beer that is 5% ABV at most grocery stores and convenience stores every day of the week. In addition to these locations, package stores across the state (there are more than 100 of them) sell a selection of beer, wine and spirits. There are also three specialty wine stores in downtown Salt Lake City that sell limited-production wine, beer and liquor with a diverse and constantly changing selection.

  • Utah state liquor stores: Higher ABV beer, wine and liquor are available at Utah’s 41 state liquor stores, which are generally open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to anywhere between 5 pm and 10 pm, depending on the location. Please note that these stores are closed on Sundays.

  • Breweries, wineries and distilleries: As noted above, these establishments can sell any of their products every day of the week, including Sundays. You can buy to-go bottles as well, but containers must remain closed on the premises.

Behind the Wheel

Utah has the strictest DUI limit in the country at 0.05%, and this includes not only driving cars but riding bikes as well. It doesn’t take much to reach that level of blood concentration so instead, consider walking or taking advantage of public transit or companies like Uber and Lyft where it’s available. If you plan on heading out and grabbing a few drinks, just be sure to leave the car (and bike) behind.

Yes, You Can Get a Drink in Rural Utah, Too

Regardless of whether or not you are in the city, you can find establishments to grab alcohol in the more rural areas of Utah as well. While it may not be as convenient to find alcohol in the farther reaches, it is available, and the same laws that apply in SLC apply there as well. These laws help regulate price, which means your favorite bottle will cost the same regardless of the liquor store — no additional markup beyond statute at remote retail outposts or resort towns. Restaurants and bars, of course, can set their own price for drinks.

Three women share a bottle of wine

Far right, Stephanie Cuadra of Terrestoria Wine Imports. Photo: Nicole Morgenthau.

Each of Utah’s five national parks has a liquor store nearby, and bars and restaurants are easy to find, especially in Springdale near Zion or Moab near Arches and Canyonlands. Rules around alcohol consumption vary from park to park, so depending on which park you are visiting, you should familiarize yourself with them.

Whether you’re in Salt Lake City or Zion National Park, finding a place to conveniently grab a drink has become much easier. There’s no need to worry about the lack of adult beverages infringing on your ski vacation or relaxation after a long day at the tradeshow. So now that you know much of what you need to know about getting a drink in Utah, forget about those old rules and raise a glass or two on your next visit.

Written by Jed Doane for Matcha in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.

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