Utah's New Beer Law Isn't Lifting Many Spirits

The good news? Utah is lifting its alcohol cap! The bad news? The new cap is still quite low.



Here's the good news: Utah is finally raising its low cap on the amount of alcohol allowed in beers sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Now the bad news: The new law only raises the cap from 3.2 percent by weight to 4.8 percent, meaning that Utah's ABW allowance will still be the lowest in the country.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB132 to ease Utah's retail beer laws, but only a little. Craft brewers in the state have already protested the new rules for not going far enough. The new law will also raise state taxes on beer barrels from $12.80 to $13.10, to pay for enforcement. The new regulations will go into effect November 1. This too has received backlash as those in the industry, such as Utah Beer Wholesalers Association President Jim Olsen, have observed that consumers will ultimately be the ones to pay.

This is the first time Utah's beer cap has been raised in 86 years. The original cap was set by the Cullen-Harrison Act, passed in Congress almost a year before national Prohibition ended. This allowed Americans to consume low-alcohol beers, which, at the time, was better than having no beer at all. When Prohibition was repealed, Utah was one of the few states that continued to observe Cullen-Harrison. Of the 18 states that still have caps on alcohol, the average cap is 12.4 percent ABV, remarkably higher than Utah's.

Utah's draconian alcohol laws have been in the spotlight before. In 2016, for example, Salt Lake City theater Brewvies' liquor license was jeopardized after showing Deadpool. The state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) prohibited any licensed establishment, which included the alcohol-serving theater, from showing anything depicting a sexual act. Two Utah Bureau of Investigation agents watched the movie at the theater while undercover and reported that Ryan Reynolds' numerous sex scenes caused the theater to be in full violation of the DABC's rules. (The agents' report included a thoroughly detailed note about a masturbation scene with a unicorn.) Threatened with a 10-day license suspension and/or a fine between $1,000 and $25,000, the Brewvies' owners filed a lawsuit; a U.S. district judge eventually ruled in the theater's favor, saying that the state's actions violated the theater's First Amendment rights.

While many states continue to enforce outdated and inconsistent alcohol laws, Utah's are especially in need of reform. The best way to do this is simple: Stop imposing these caps completely, and let the consumers decide what they want to drink.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story did not immediately make clear that Utah measures alcohol content by weight.