Unlocking the Mysteries of Utah’s Quirky Alcohol Laws

In the heart of the American West, nestled among stunning landscapes and a rich cultural tapestry, lies a state with some of the most peculiar alcohol laws in the nation—Utah. With a historical backdrop deeply entwined with the Church of Latter-day Saints, Utah’s approach to alcohol regulation stands as a testament to its distinctive character. This comprehensive article embarks on a thorough exploration of Utah’s alcohol laws, from their origins and recent changes to their impact and every peculiar detail in between.

Table: Utah’s Alcohol Laws Overview

Aspect of Utah’s Alcohol LawsDescription
Historical OriginsTies to the LDS Church, post-Prohibition regulations
Recent Changes2019 beer law reform, Zion Curtain removal
Influence of the LDS ChurchIndirect influence on lawmakers
Separation of Church & StateOngoing debate and legal challenges
Beer RegulationsABV limits, retail and state-operated sales
Unique Restaurant RulesProhibitions on BYOB, food order requirement
Impact on UtahLow alcohol-related fatalities and DUI arrests

Origins of Utah’s Alcohol Laws: A Historical Odyssey

Utah’s distinctive alcohol regulations can be traced back to its historical association with the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The state’s journey from being criticized as a “saloon state” before Prohibition to implementing strict alcohol legislation post-Prohibition reflects its unique cultural evolution. In 1933, Utah ratified the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), followed by the establishment of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control two years later, overseeing all aspects of alcohol licensing and regulation within the state.

New Utah Alcohol Laws: An Ever-Evolving Landscape

Blurred photograph of a liquor shelf inside a retail store

Utah’s alcohol laws have undergone substantial transformations in recent years, reflecting shifts in societal norms, economic considerations, and changing consumer preferences. Let’s delve into the most notable changes that have taken place in Utah’s alcohol regulations, with a focus on the developments that have occurred since 2017.

Increased ABV Limit for Beer

One of the most significant changes in Utah’s alcohol laws occurred in 2019 when the state increased the allowable alcohol by volume (ABV) limit for beer. Previously, the limit was capped at 3.2% alcohol by weight (approximately 4% ABV). However, with the new law in effect, restaurants and grocery stores were allowed to sell beer with an ABV of up to 4% alcohol by weight (approximately 5% ABV). This change was in response to consumer demand for a wider variety of beer options and was seen as a step towards modernizing Utah’s liquor laws.

To illustrate the change, here’s a table comparing the old and new ABV limits:

YearABV Limit (Weight)ABV Limit (Approximate ABV)

This increase allowed Utahns to access a broader range of beer options in their local grocery stores and restaurants, aligning the state’s regulations more closely with those of other states.

Weird Utah Liquor Laws: Removal of the “Zion Curtain”

Another pivotal reform in Utah’s alcohol laws occurred in 2017 with the removal of the “Zion Curtain” law. This law mandated that the preparation of alcoholic beverages in restaurants and bars must be hidden from the view of customers. It was seen as a unique and somewhat quirky aspect of Utah’s alcohol regulations, often confusing visitors and sparking debate among residents.

The removal of the “Zion Curtain” brought greater transparency to the preparation of alcoholic beverages in restaurants, allowing patrons to witness the mixing and preparation process. This change was welcomed by many who felt that it made dining experiences more enjoyable and aligned with modern restaurant practices.

Availability of Higher-Strength Beer

While the 2019 change allowed for beer with a higher ABV to be sold in grocery stores and restaurants, it’s essential to note that beer with even higher ABV values is still exclusively available at state-operated liquor stores in Utah. These stores carry a more extensive selection of alcoholic beverages, including wines, spirits, and beers with ABV values well above 5%.

This division in beer availability ensures that consumers have access to a wide range of options while also upholding regulations designed to control the sale and distribution of stronger alcoholic products.

Influence of the LDS Church: A Complex Interplay

The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), commonly known as the Mormon Church, wields significant influence in the state of Utah, both culturally and politically. Its positions on various issues, including liquor laws, have been a subject of scrutiny and debate. Let’s explore the intricate relationship between the LDS Church and Utah’s liquor laws, delving into the extent of its influence, the controversies surrounding its involvement in politics, and the legal challenges it has faced.

Historical Context

To understand the influence of the LDS Church on Utah’s liquor laws, it is crucial to consider the historical context. The Church has deep roots in Utah, dating back to the mid-19th century when its members settled in the region. The Word of Wisdom, a dietary code within the faith, has always discouraged the consumption of alcohol, making liquor laws a matter of concern for the Church.

Official Church Positions

The LDS Church has consistently advocated for strict liquor laws in Utah. These positions are based on its religious teachings and moral beliefs. Some key aspects of the Church’s official stance include:

  • Advocacy for lower alcohol content: The Church has supported legislation to limit the alcohol content in beverages sold in the state, promoting the idea of moderation.
  • Control of liquor distribution: It has endorsed the state’s control over liquor distribution and sales, believing that this approach aligns with its efforts to reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Sunday alcohol sales: The Church has opposed Sunday alcohol sales, reflecting its traditional values and observance of the Sabbath.

Indirect Influence

While the LDS Church’s official positions on liquor laws are well-known, its indirect influence on Utah politics is a subject of debate. Some argue that legislators who share the faith may be swayed by Church leaders or their constituents who align with the Church’s views. However, concrete evidence of direct pressure or interference in legislative matters is challenging to establish.

Controversies and Legal Challenges

The relationship between the LDS Church and Utah politics has not been without controversy. Lawsuits have been filed, alleging that the Church unduly influences lawmakers, blurring the line between church and state. One notable lawsuit, brought by a group called “Restore Our Humanity” in 2014, claimed that the Church’s involvement in the campaign against same-sex marriage in Utah crossed constitutional boundaries.

  • Legal outcomes: Despite these controversies, a federal judge dismissed the aforementioned lawsuit due to a lack of concrete evidence. The judge ruled that while the Church’s influence was a matter of public discussion, proving direct interference in legislative affairs remained elusive.

Separation of Church and State

The United States Constitution’s First Amendment mandates the separation of church and state. While religious organizations have the right to express their views and advocate for their beliefs, direct involvement in political decision-making can raise constitutional concerns.

The Separation of Church and State: A Contentious Debate

Utah’s unique position raises questions about the separation of church and state. In 2011, the Utah Hospitality Association filed a lawsuit, asserting that the Church influences lawmakers to pass restrictive alcohol laws. State attorneys, however, defended the Church’s involvement as an exercise of its First Amendment rights. The federal judge ultimately dismissed the lawsuit, leaving the boundary between religion and legislation blurred.

Beer Regulations in Utah: From 3.2% to 5% ABV

Close-up photograph of a bartender pouring a glass of light beer

Utah, known for its stunning landscapes and unique culture, has also been historically known for its strict beer regulations. However, in recent years, there has been a significant shift in the state’s approach to beer regulations. This shift has allowed for the sale of stronger beer in restaurants and grocery stores, and it’s important to understand the details of these changes. In this article, we will explore Utah’s beer regulations, including the transition from 3.2% to 5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume), where and how you can purchase alcohol in the state, and the rules for consuming alcohol in public establishments.

Transition from 3.2% to 5% ABV

One of the most notable changes in Utah’s beer regulations occurred in 2019. Before this change, the maximum ABV allowed for beer in grocery stores and restaurants was 3.2% alcohol by weight, which is approximately equivalent to 4% ABV. However, Utah law was amended to allow the sale of beer with an ABV of up to 4% alcohol by weight, which is approximately equivalent to 5% ABV. This change brought Utah’s beer regulations more in line with those of many other states in the United States.

To understand this transition better, let’s break down the key points in a table:

YearMaximum ABV for Beer in Utah
Before 20193.2% alcohol by weight (Approximately 4% ABV)
After 20194% alcohol by weight (Approximately 5% ABV)

This shift in regulations expanded the variety of beer available in grocery stores and restaurants, giving consumers access to a wider range of options.

Where to Purchase Stronger Alcohol

While the 2019 change allowed for stronger beer in grocery stores and restaurants, it’s essential to note that stronger alcoholic beverages, such as wine and spirits, are still primarily available through Utah’s state-operated liquor stores. These stores are controlled by the state and adhere to specific rules and regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages.

For those looking to purchase beer with an ABV above 5%, craft breweries and specialty liquor stores often offer a selection of higher-alcohol beers that can’t be found in regular grocery stores.

Rules for Alcohol Consumption in Bars and Restaurants

Utah has specific rules when it comes to consuming alcohol in bars and restaurants. It’s important to be aware of these rules to avoid any legal issues or misunderstandings while dining or drinking in public establishments:

  • No BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle): Utah prohibits customers from bringing their alcohol into bars or restaurants. This means you cannot bring your own alcoholic beverages to consume while dining out.
  • Food Order Requirement: When ordering alcohol in a restaurant, you must also order food. This rule ensures that alcohol consumption is typically accompanied by a meal.
  • Limited Drink Sizes: Utah has restrictions on the size of alcoholic beverages served in bars and restaurants. Single servings of spirits, for example, are typically limited to 1.5 ounces.
  • Strict Pouring Regulations: Bartenders and servers in Utah must adhere to strict pouring regulations to ensure that the amount of alcohol served in a single drink is within legal limits.

Unique Restaurant Rules: Dining with Utah’s Alcohol Laws

Close-up shot of glasses filled with alcohol on the bar

Utah’s alcohol laws extend to its dining establishments, featuring some unique rules. Patrons are prohibited from bringing their own alcohol into bars or restaurants, creating a distinct dining experience. Furthermore, restaurants must ensure that alcohol is purchased alongside a food order, an unusual requirement that distinguishes Utah from other states.

Impact of Utah’s Alcohol Laws: Balancing Act

Utah boasts some remarkable statistics in relation to alcohol regulation. Notably, it recorded the lowest percentage of alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2019. A 2014 report also highlighted Utah’s lowest alcohol-attributed deaths in an analysis of 11 states. Moreover, the state falls below the national average in reported binge drinking, drinking before driving, and DUI arrests. However, it’s essential to consider that these positive figures may result from a combination of cultural factors and the influence of its laws.


Utah’s unconventional alcohol laws continue to capture attention and spark debates. While they do not appear to stem from direct Church intervention, they undoubtedly reflect the values of the predominantly LDS population. Utah’s alcohol regulations also align with those of other states categorized as “liquor control states.” As politics and religion intertwine in this unique setting, respectful discussions among faithful members and the wider community remain crucial.

Utah’s alcohol laws remain an enigmatic facet of the state’s identity. From their historical origins to recent changes and their impact on Utah’s society, these laws shape an intricate narrative of culture and legislation. Whether one views them as eccentric or pragmatic, they undeniably set Utah apart on the landscape of alcohol regulation in the United States.


1. Are there other states with alcohol laws as restrictive as Utah’s?

Yes, there are 17 “liquor control states,” including Wyoming, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, each with its unique alcohol regulations.

2. Does the LDS Church influence Utah’s alcohol laws?

The LDS Church’s official positions on Utah’s liquor laws may indirectly influence legislators, but its direct influence in Utah politics is a subject of debate.

3. Are Utah’s alcohol laws a violation of the separation between church and state?

This has been a contentious issue, with lawsuits alleging that the Church pressures lawmakers. However, a federal judge dismissed one such lawsuit for lack of evidence.