Utah Liquor Laws | KUER 90.1

Utah Liquor Laws

Credit Elaine Clark / KUER

The 2010s saw small but significant loosening of state liquor laws, which are notoriously strict.

It was only a few years ago when Utah bartenders had to hide behind a wall (or, at the Eccles Theater, in a closet) to mix cocktails. That changed in 2017, when the so-called “Zion curtains” fell around the state.

And just last month, grocery stores and gas stations began selling slightly stronger beer (and in many cases, more brews to choose from) after the Legislature approved raising the cap from 4% alcohol by volume (ABV) to 5%. Small victories for Utah drinkers, but victories nonetheless. — Nicole Nixon

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A pallet stacked with black lager beer affixed with a neon green 5% sticker.
Nicole Nixon / KUER

Utah beer makers and drinkers alike are anxiously awaiting Nov. 1, when the limit on brews sold on tap and in grocery and convenience stores switches from 4% alcohol by volume (3.2% alcohol by weight) to 5% ABV. 

Photo of beer fridge.
iStock.com / TrongNguyen

A push to raise the limit on beer in grocery stores is back at the State Capitol after legislation hit some turbulence last week.

photo of 3.2 beer label.
JT Nebeker for KUER

A proposal to allow stronger beer in grocery and convenience stores received preliminary support from the Utah Senate on Monday.

Photo of beer in store.
Courtesy Taylor Smith

It might soon be harder to find your favorite can of beer at the grocery store, but a Utah lawmaker is working to allow stronger brews to be sold in store by changing the legal definition of beer.

In 1983, Utah was the first state to lower its blood alcohol limit from 0.10 to 0.08 for impaired driving. It would take nearly two decades for every state to follow suit, but as they did, the nation's rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped 10 percent. Now, Utah is pioneering the move to lower it once again.

Beginning Dec. 30 — yes, the day before New Year's Eve — Utahns will have to be extra careful about drinking and driving. On Sunday, the state's blood alcohol content limit will drop from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, marking the strictest DUI law in the country.

Photo of chekcpoint sign.
iStock.com / aijohn784

Utah will soon impose the country's strictest limits for drunk driving.

Nicole Nixon / KUER

Last year the Utah Legislature made bars and restaurants serving alcohol put signs up near the front door declaring which kind of liquor license the establishment holds.

Screenshot / Jim Dabakis Facebook

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, confessed to Senate colleagues that he was legally impaired while presenting a bill to delay implementation of the state’s strictest-in-the-nation DUI law.

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Some national beer companies are considering dropping weaker brews, which means Utah beer drinkers could see fewer options at the grocery store.

Nicole Nixon / KUER

Any proposed change to Utah’s liquor laws is met with scrutiny by the restaurant industry, conservatives, and drinkers alike.

Nicole Nixon

In a lawsuit involving state alcohol regulators, Brewvies Cinema Pub, and the movie “Deadpool”, Brewvies has scored a major victory.

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Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson on Tuesday told KUER he is working on a bill regarding the sale of low-point beer sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Nicole Nixon / KUER

At Current Fish & Oyster in Salt Lake City, owner Joel LaSalle and general manager Andrew Cliburn could not wait to take down the frosted glass panels covering the bar.

Nicole Nixon

Utah Lawmakers continued discussions Wednesday about possibly changing a new law that lowers the legal limit to .05 blood alcohol content.

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More states are turning away from requiring low-point beer—or beer with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight—in grocery and convenience stores. Lawmakers, store owners and the state’s liquor control agency are wondering what will happen to Utah’s beer market if big breweries like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors decide to end production of low-point beer because demand is shrinking.

Nicole Nixon

Many of the new laws passed during this year’s legislative session take effect Tuesday. That includes some changes to Utah’s liquor laws,with which business owners in the food and drink industry are still coming to terms.

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Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill to overhaul the state’s liquor laws. Meanwhile, state regulators are already preparing to work through the changes.

Julia Ritchey, KUER

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill that will lower Utah’s blood alcohol limit for driving from .08 to .05, making it the strictest in the nation.

Nicole Nixon

When Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, unveiled House Bill 442 earlier this week, he quickly ran into pushback from restaurant groups.  Many had concerns about having a choice limited to keeping up 7-foot barriers known as ‘Zion Curtains’ or instituting a 10-foot child-free buffer zone around a bar, what’s now being referred to as a ‘Zion Moat.’

Julia Ritchey, KUER


Gov. Gary Herbert says he would support legislation that could bring down the so-called Zion Curtain — that’s the 7-foot wall restaurants are required to build to shield young customers from seeing alcoholic beverages being made.

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Two Republican lawmakers are reportedly working on a bill that would allow the so-called “Zion Curtains” to come down in restaurants.

iStock / kieferpix

Sales at Utah liquor stores have been climbing steadily for years, and they’re set to break records again for 2016.

Study Finds Salt Lake City Lacks Affordable Housing

Aug 18, 2016
ISTOCKPHOTO.COM- ChrisBoswell

A new report by the Downtown Salt Lake City Alliance finds the city lacks affordable housing for young and low-income workers. 

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Democratic State Senator Jim Dabakis says if Utah lawmakers don’t take action this year to loosen up liquor laws, he’s going to launch a ballot initiative to privatize liquor sales in the state.

Bart Everson via Creative Commons

Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s state budget office has made a list of recommendations to shape up the state’s liquor agency. The recommendations are intended to deal with declining employee morale and poor management of inventory and distribution in Utah liquor stores.

Photo courtesy Jay Yahne

Utah liquor officials say they're not ready to give a brandy distillery special permission to sell mini-bottles of liquor. Instead they want state lawmakers to step in and settle Utah's complex alcohol-sampling laws.

Republican Senator John Valentine is well known for his involvement with shaping Utah’s liquor laws, but he’s now voicing some regret about the legislation he sponsored.

Brian Grimmett

Governor Gary Herbert has nominated Senator John Valentine to be the chair of the state tax commission. The move means one of Utah’s longest serving legislators will have to resign.

It's Now Legal to Sell a Utah Liquor License

Jul 1, 2014

  Starting today, it’s legal for bar or restaurant owners to sell their liquor licenses in Utah.  KUER’s Dan Bammes reports the change is meant to keep transactions above board.

The Transfer of License Act was passed by the Utah legislature three years ago.  The sponsor was Republican State Senator John Valentine, who says the idea was to stop the under-the-table transactions that often accompanied the sale of a business.

A restaurant near the University of Utah has closed, and a liquor license may be opening up. The Market Street Broiler shut its doors Monday, though it had only recently opened an oyster bar upstairs with a newly granted club license.

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