My wife’s family left California during the last millennium for Colorado. I endured years of family visits to Denver with weird beer laws like no beer sales in supermarkets or alcohol sales in stores on Sunday. Over time the laws in Colorado changed. These days Colorado stores even sell marijuana on Sundays.
Utah still has some of the more restrictive alcohol laws in the country, yet the state is not as restrictive as I anticipated prior to my time in Salt Lake City last week.
Eyewitness report – beer seen in Utah.
Salt Lake City has seriously good availability of craft beer from several Utah breweries and beer is available in pubs, clubs, grocery stores, restaurants and the Utah State Liquor Store. There is a beer scene happening in Utah.
But Utah is not like California where alcohol is widely available. The primary restriction in California is a statewide law on no alcohol sales between 2am and 6am. Other than that 4 hour window, most food stores and gas station stores sell beer, wine and liquor.
Utah has far more restrictive laws.
Here is what I learned about the different places for buying beer in Salt Lake City in a pub, grocery store, restaurant and Utah State Liquor Store.
Salt Lake City has pubs. Salt Lake Official Visitors Guide can be downloaded online or a 5.5 x 8.5” book you will find at the SLC Airport and most hotels. Salt Lake City has named itself ‘Ski City USA’.
I gave the guide a quick read in SLC and I have looked over it more thoroughly back at home in California. The SLC guide is a great resource for tourists.
After the SkiCityUSA Visitors Guide promotes the opportunities for skiers and snowboarders on the first five pages, Page 6 shows a half cup of beer in a winterly dressed woman’s hand with words “125 Bars” on the photo. The Visitors Guide also has a section on the Downtown Pub Crawl with seven pub descriptions.
Beer scene is obviously growing fast since online edition reads 140 Bars compared to the paper book I have from SLC.
Salt Lake City Pubs
The Beerhive Pub is one of the featured pubs in the Visitors Guide SLC Downtown Pub Crawl. Utah is called the ‘Beehive State’ as a symbol of industriousness. Beerhive is a clever name. I made it to The Beerhive for food and a couple of pints for the second half of the Green Bay-Seattle NFC Championship game. Inside the pub fans were about evenly divided in team loyalty. As a 49er, I did not care who won.
Beerhive pub has a wall of historic photos showing brewing culture has long existed in Salt Lake City. One of the very cool features of this pub is a 4-inch wide ice strip running the length of the bar counter to keep your pint chilled. $4 pints with a selection of more than 20 craft beers on tap and many more in bottles offered a good introduction to Utah craft beer. Uintas Brewery made a good taste sensation impression on me.
Grocery Store Beer
Grocery stores can sell 3.2 ABW beer in Utah. UPDATE: Based on the first comment to this article, I was wrong about no sales on Sunday.
What is 3.2% ABW beer?
Alcohol can be measured by weight or volume. Utah law defines heavy beer as beer above 3.2% ABW. When you see alcohol content on a beer or wine bottle, the standard measure in the industry is ABV – Alcohol by Volume.
Alcohol by Weight is 80% of Alcohol by Volume, so a 3.2% ABW beer is a 4.0% ABV beer when you see it labeled on the bottle or can. Standard beer around the USA averages 4.5% to 5.0% ABV. There is not a substantial difference in alcohol between 4.0% ABV in Utah and 4.5% ABV elsewhere. A six pack of 3.2% ABW (4.0% ABV) beer should keep you out of the driver’s seat.
The law in Utah has restrictions on alcohol content with 3.2% ABW limit for beer sold in grocery stores. I was surprised to see Stella Artois Legere in a six-pack container label reading, “Alcohol content not more than 3.2% by weight” when I was checking out the beer scene in Harmons downtown SLC.
Kind of blew my mind to see dozens of beers, all at 4% ABV. Question in my mind is do they water down the beer to that level of alcohol content?
Here is a good read: The Legacy of 3.2% Beer from the website Wine & Jurisprudence.
Beer in Restaurants
Utah law classifies three types of licenses for restaurant alcohol sales.
Restaurants with a beer only license can only sell 3.2% ABW beer.*
Some restaurants have a limited service liquor license allowing wine and heavy beer (>3.2% ABW).
Restaurants with a full service liquor license can sell distilled liquor, wines and heavy beer. What we call a ‘bar’ in most places.
* Two rules govern restaurant drinks:
- You must be dining with a food order to buy drinks.
- Hours when alcohol can be served are 11:30am – 1:00am for restaurants.
I only ordered beer in pubs during my Salt Lake City trip last week.
Utah State Liquor Store
While staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown, I looked up Utah State Liquor Store to learn there was an establishment half a block diagonally from the hotel. This is where you go to buy liquor or heavy beer if you want to have the Utah craft brews at their full potential.
The beggars hanging outside the Utah State Liquor Store seemed like the building acted as a magnet for the destitute. A cop sat in his police car in the parking lot with a view of the store entrance.
Beer is sold only at single bottle prices with the lowest priced beers around $1.85 and around $3.75 to $4.00 for many craft brew beers in larger size bottles. Stella Artois, the beer at its regular ABV, was $2.30 per bottle. My local Costco cost for Stella Artois went up to $24.99 last month after many years at $22.99 per 24-bottle case.
I told the store employee I’d quit drinking beer at $55 per case.
On top of the price, the beer in the Utah State Liquor Store did not offer cold beer.
Squatter’s Pub and Cold Beer Sales of Heavy Beer
Another pub I give an outstanding rating is Squatters Pub in Salt Lake City. I had eaten lunch in Squatters and noticed they had refrigerated beer. Squatter’s is a half-block from Courtyard Marriott Downtown SLC in the other direction from the Utah State Liquor Store.
I purchased three bottles of cold beer at $1.89 each. They each had ABV in the 6% to 9% range.
- Wasatch First One Down Winter Warmer Ale (7.1% ABV) – Utah Brewers Cooperative
- Squatters Off Duty IPA (6.5% ABV) – Utah Brewers Cooperative
- Squatters Hop Rising Double IPA (9.0%ABV).
Squatters is also in Park City. Now I know Off Duty IPA is a good tasting beer to me. I can seek out Off Duty IPA during Sundance festivities this week. I just might pack the snow clothes, order a growler at Squatters and spend the week howling at the moon and stars.