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Welcome to the 5%: New Liquor Laws Support Utah's Vibrant Craft Brew Scene

Raise a glass to your next trip to Utah — you won’t be disappointed.

To outsiders, Utah’s liquor laws might seem a little archaic. And that’s despite a recent amendment that allowed beer of up to 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) to be sold in grocery stores and poured on draft, up from its previous limit of 4% (aka 3.2% by weight). It was such a momentous change by Utah standards that Anheuser-Busch brought in the Budweiser Clydesdales to parade through downtown Salt Lake City. (As a point of comparison, most nationally distributed beer is in the 4% to 6% range, usually hovering close to 5%.)

Many imbibing Utahns celebrated this victory for beer-lovers by visiting local convenience stores on the day of the change. Others capitalized during the preceding weeks by buying up heavily discounted cases of the last of the 4% beer. As silly as this might sound, Utahans are used to working within the nuances of state liquor laws — and it hasn’t stopped a growing craft brewery industry from thriving in the state. Visitors to the Beehive state will find getting a drink is easy — and you can enjoy the offerings of some of the country’s most creative artisan brewers. Things may not be exactly the same as in the rest of the country, but that won’t stop you from enjoying a beer on your next trip to Utah.

A female stands by a glowing fire outside at dusk with a glass in hand. 

Despite what you’ve heard, Utah has come a long way from its quirkiest liquor laws. Photo: Emily Sierra Photography

The Vibrant Craft Beer Scene

New breweries are popping up all over Utah, but nowhere more than Salt Lake City. You’ll find dozens of new small-batch breweries making a name for themselves alongside the established big-name brewers. You could spend a whole week digging into their offerings and barely break the surface. No doubt, it’s an exciting time for beer lovers. But with so many options, how do you begin to carve out your own personalized brewery tour?

One of the best ways to discover the influx of new and mainstay breweries around SLC is through the Salt Lake Brewery Pass. You can purchase 1-day, 3-day, or 90-day mobile passes that let you create your self-guided brewery tour. The one-day pass costs $15 and gives you a $5 voucher for every brewery you visit (up to 12 breweries, if you’re up to the task). Those vouchers add up fast if you plan on visiting more than a few of Salt Lake’s breweries. It’s worth noting that because of some of the state licensing laws still in effect, you’ll have to order food at a few Utah breweries to consume alcohol.

A local favorite is the Fisher Brewing taproom in the Granary District, which features ample outdoor space, great local beer and a community vibe (read: Rediscovering a Piece of Utah’s History at A. Fisher Brewing Company). For a classic dive-bar vibe with billiards and inexpensive beer, check out the Twilite Lounge. Locals, college kids, and out-of-towners alike come together in unique harmony at this local watering hole. For their extensive menu, the Bayou and Ty Burrell-owned Beer Bar are two must-visit beer bars near downtown Salt Lake.

Things may not be exactly the same as in the rest of the country, but that won’t stop you from enjoying a beer on your next trip to Utah.

For Fans of Full-Strength Beer

For those of you who prefer stronger beers, there’s no shortage of delicious, locally brewed full-strength beer in Utah. But it comes with a few stipulations. First, full-strength beer in Utah has to be bottled or canned, so you won’t be able to enjoy it on draft. You also can’t buy anything higher than 5% ABV at convenience stores or grocery stores. Breweries that make full-strength beer will have it available for consumption on location. If you want to take some beer with you, you can buy full-strength beer to-go at either the brewery or a state liquor store (but plan ahead for the latter option because beer is stocked at room temperature at state liquor stores).

Four full glasses come together for a "toast" at Proper Brewing Co. 

Clinking glasses at Proper Brewing Co. Photo: Austen Diamond Photography

The BAC limit in Utah

Utah recently enacted a 0.05% DUI limit, which is the strictest in the country. For some people, it doesn’t take more than a drink or two to reach that level of blood-alcohol concentration, so it’s a good idea to avoid driving if you plan to go out for drinks in Utah (that’s probably a good rule of thumb everywhere). You shouldn’t have any trouble ride-sharing with companies like Uber and Lyft if you’re in the city. But note that if you opt to ride your bicycle while over the 0.05% limit, you can still get a DUI. Leave the car (and bike) behind and the new limit won’t be a deterrent from enjoying a few adult beverages responsibly.

Despite what you’ve heard, Utah has come a long way from its quirkiest liquor laws, like the privacy club law that once required patrons to become members of the establishment in order to enjoy an alcoholic beverage. But nowadays, the state has a ton to offer with its craft beer, wine and spirits. Between the myriad of breweries (read: Brewing Up the Best) and distilleries, you might even have trouble deciding where to enjoy the vibrant local nightlife. So while Utah still has some unconventional liquor laws on the books, they aren’t an impediment to enjoying the local creations. So raise a glass to your next trip to Utah — you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Matt Halpin for Matcha in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.

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