The days of Utah as the state with the oddball liquor laws appear to be fading slowly into history.
Yes, you still can only buy 3.2 beer at grocery stores and, yes, the liquor stores aren't widely advertised. The state still regulates importation of alcohol, and the state-required pourers control how much booze can go in each drink at a bar or restaurant.
There are lights at the end of the tunnel, however. Reform legislation is moving through the statehouse in Salt Lake City that will free up about two dozen unused liquor permits and also allow current permit-holders to sell their liquor-serving rights to another restaurant. Other proposals aim to unravel some of the red tape that controls the consumption of alcohol in the Beehive State.
"Much of what's up now won't be visible to the consumer," Nathan Rafferty, head of SkiUtah, told OnTheSnow. "But overall the legislature is seeing that its liquor laws do affect tourism."
Of particular concern to Utah winter resorts and their visitors is a provision that will allow a single establishment to hold just one permit for all its alcohol-related services. One resort reportedly holds 17 permits to cover its bars, restaurants and other liquor-related services. The new legislation, which has passed the state House, would ease the expense of having to purchase and renew numerous permits.
Utah has been one of a handful of states that issue alcohol permits based on population, a formula that will be altered if this legislation is approved. A legislative audit revealed that while the number of permits hasn't risen since 1990, the state's population has gone up 22 percent. Furthermore, alcohol consumption in Utah went up 54 percent from 2001-2009, according to the audit.
This round of liquor-law reform comes on the heels of a major victory for the winter sports, hospitality, and tourism industries in 2009, when some of the most draconian aspects of Utah law were taken off the books. Among those changes were permitting a bartender to pass a drink directly to a customer and eliminating the need for a club membership in order to buy alcoholic drinks.