America's Quirky Alcohol Laws

[via time] Last week, thirsty Utahans rejoiced. After decades of applying for "memberships" at local bars so they could legally drink alcohol, adults in Utah can now stroll through the doors of any saloon by simply flashing their ID. For a state that forbids happy hour, ordering doubles, putting more than 2.5 oz. of liquor in a libation and mixing cocktails in front of restaurant-goers, the new law, which took effect on July 1, was cause for celebration. One enthusiastic entrepreneur organized a crawl to mark the occasion; participants donned T-shirts emblazoned with the initials D.U.I. (for "Drinking Utah's Independence").

But boozehounds in Utah still can't buy malt beverages and can only purchase full-strength beer — as opposed to "near beer," which contains no more than 3.2% alcohol — at liquor stores. As one Park City resident lamented to the Associated Press, "Why can't we all be one nation under God and do what everybody else does?"

Of course, the union's other 49 states have quirky liquor laws of their own. In Pennsylvania and Idaho, for example, spirits can only be sold in stores controlled by "Alcoholic Beverage Control" agencies, colloquially known as ABC stores or Aunt Betty's Cupboard. In New York, liquor stores cannot be jointly owned, and the sole proprietor is required to live within a certain distance of his or her establishment — a stipulation that effectively bans chains. In Kansas, a state that outlawed alcohol sales until 1948 — a full 15 years after Congress repealed Prohibition — 29 counties still don't allow the sale of individual glasses of liquor.

Until 2005, bartenders in South Carolina were required by law to use minibottles of booze to mix drinks, lending the state's taverns a reputation for making waste — and for making customers wasted. (Unlike most pubs, which use jiggers to carefully measure how much liquor goes into each drink, mixologists in the Palmetto State nonchalantly poured all 1.7 oz. of a minibottle into each and every cocktail.)

Of the alcohol-governing rules that remain on the books, some of the most extreme are known as "blue laws," which outlaw certain "secular" activities on Sunday (like enjoying a pint of ale). The term, according to some historians, comes from the color of the paper used to print the first decrees, in New Haven, Conn. Others believe it refers to blue's use as an 18th century slang term for "rigidly moral." If you were a settler in the 1700s, Sunday was a day to rest and honor the Sabbath, nothing less and (definitely) nothing more. It wasn't just alcoholic beverages that were forbidden; if you cut your hair, picked up a broom or even kissed your kid, you were in violation of blue laws and could be subject to fines, whippings and righteous scorn from both the pulpit and the public.

While most blue laws faded into obscurity after the Revolutionary War, the temperance movement of the 1930s renewed interest in banning the Devil's Brew and reclaiming Sunday as a holy day, especially in the Bible Belt. In 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that states had the right to impose blue laws, but only if lawmakers could come up with a rationale that wasn't rooted in religion. Explaining the court's ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that Sunday is a "time for family activity, for late sleeping, for passive and active entertainments, for dining out and the like," apparently overlooking those Americans for whom "passive and active entertainments" involve cracking open a cold one.

Spurred by a budget crunch in 2002, Oregon became the first state to repeal its blue laws banning Sunday liquor sales. In response to the recession, a slew of other states are weighing whether to fall off the Sunday wagon, including Texas, Georgia, Connecticut and Alabama. Utah, though, is not one of them.

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