Make Your Utah Vacation Better with Smuggled Booze

Short of rescinding ridiculous liquor laws, the best way to deal with such silly restrictions is to ignore them.


Last month, I crossed the border between Arizona and Utah with a cargo of contraband in my possession. The goods—hard to legally come by behind the Zion Curtain even after recent reforms—were carefully concealed amidst other cargo, to avoid the prying eyes of Beehive State enforcers. Most importantly, my illicit cargo paired well with meat and fish and could be enjoyed in the time, place, and quantity of my choosing.

That's right. I smuggled liquor and wine on my hiking vacation to Bryce and Zion National Parks.

Utah isn't the only place where it's a joy to ignore stupid restrictions on alcohol consumption. But the state remains cluelessly proud of such rules, which are painfully tight even after a liberalizing law in 2017 made it legal for people to actually watch their drinks being mixed. When that's viewed as a victory, you know the place has a way to go.

With few exceptions, "it is clear you may not bring alcoholic beverages into Utah for any purpose whether it is for personal consumption, to serve at a private social function, or to give or sell to others," the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) boasts on its website.

Should you be fool enough to abide by such a ban, you'll have to do a little planning to satisfy your thirst—unless you're OK with the 3.2 beer available in convenience stores. The state has all of 44 full-service liquor stores scattered about, as well as "agencies" with more limited offerings. There is also "a world class wine selection at three specialty wine stores," as the DABC puts it, all in Salt Lake City.

No liquor stores are near Bryce Canyon National Park—the nearest is in Panguitch, which is half-hour drive each way. The Ruby's Inn General Store does have 3.2 beer available at the sort of prices you'd expect at the only shop around. You can also order drinks with your dinner at the lodge in the park and at restaurants outside the park gates and in nearby towns.

Springdale, outside the main gates of Zion National Park, is a larger community that offers greater choice than you find at Bryce. There's an actual liquor store there—Switchback Trading Company—that was almost a quarter the size of the booze section in any of the grocery stores in my town. There are plenty of restaurants with full bars, too.

But, if you've had a full day on the trail, forget about a generous pour. Utah law allows for "no more than 1.5 ounces of primary liquor in a mixed drink," which can be blended with other ingredients "not to exceed a total of 2.5 ounces of spirituous liquor." Your choice of red, white, or rosé can't exceed five ounces per glass.

Five ounces of wine? In Arizona, we call that a sip. My server at a Phoenix eatery last night offered me a choice of six or nine ounces of pinot grigio.

Utah's restrictive rules and limited opportunities for relaxation with a beverage require a period of quiet contemplation. Heavy thinking of that sort is best done over a generous pour of zinfandel brought into the state courtesy of a large and heavy cooler.

To be fair, Utah has improved its liquor laws. Until 2009, would-be imbibers had to purchase memberships in private clubs before being allowed to sit down and order drinks. I doubt anybody mourns the disappearance of that law.

And the state's lawmakers are hardly isolated in their silliness and presumption.

I like wine clubs, for instance, but when I tried to share the joy with my mother, I discovered that Maryland is among the many states that let a clique of local distributors dictate the rules. That means that "you must make arrangements to ship the wine to you through a Maryland wholesaler, using a Direct Wine Sellers Permit," according to the state Comptroller's office. Effectively, wine clubs operating in Maryland must be licensed as wine manufacturers—which limits the options, as you might expect.

I was able to find a club that would do the job. But I also discovered that lots of vineyards and wine shops around the country, fed up with restrictive shipping rules, have cut deals with shipping storefronts that will carefully package the goods and label them as something innocuous. If you look around in restrictive states like Maryland, it's impressive how many people receive regular shipments of books and antiques from wine country.

Theoretically, Maryland even restricts residents returning from vacation to transporting one gallon of the good stuff per trip—to be reported to the state. "One quart per trip is tax exempt," says the Comptroller's office. "The remaining three quarts is taxed in Maryland."

Uh huh. Remember to wrap those books and antiques carefully.

It's not that government officials are unaware that their subjects scoff at ridiculous rules—they have such violations rubbed in their faces all the time. But being who they are, lawmakers see the fault not in their laws but in the insufficiently docile public.

When sky-high-taxes and an entrenched liquor-distribution cartel made it very attractive to smuggle booze from cheaper Indiana to Illinois, Illinois responded by making it a felony to import more than 45 liters without a license.

That doesn't appear to have deterred the cross-border trade, to judge by news reports that portray a lively business that continues despite the occasional arrest. In January 2018 alone, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission asked 837 businesses to please stop illegally shipping booze to Illinois customers. That's a good sign that the benefits of breaking the law vastly outweigh the small risk of getting caught.

Honestly, how many people can the authorities arrest when their rules are sufficiently restrictive that many people see ignoring them as just good sense? That's true in all cases, of course, but it applies in particular to something as widely enjoyed as alcoholic beverages. On my many trips to Utah, cases of beer and bottles of wine and liquor have been constant companions. I've shared my stash with people I meet, who happily reciprocated with their own supplies.

So, keep the party going, no matter what officious party-poopers might say. Maybe they'll eventually get the message that their rules are unwelcome and unenforceable. Or maybe you'll just get to enjoy an afternoon drink without a lot of hassle. Just don't forget the corkscrew.

NEXT: Trump's Claim That Mexico Will Buy More American Agricultural Goods Is Fake News

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  1. Sometimes with these scofflaw suggestions I think Tuccille gets kickbacks from area prosecutors.

    1. Scofflaw IPA out of Atlanta is an amazing beer.

      1. Since it’s an IPA I assume that by “amazing” you mean it can be drunk without inducing vomiting?

        1. You can drink it without having already had a few actually good beers in the last hour.

          1. So it’s not really an IPA?

            1. The term IPA is almost meaningless on its own these days. It’s about as descriptive of a style of beer as “rock” describes a style of music.

              If you haven’t found a beer with the letters IPA on the label that you like, you either haven’t tried hard enough or you really don’t like beer.

  2. Federalism is only cool when states have laws we like.

    1. Federalism means every state law everywhere is justifiable and good.

    2. Federalism is cool because it means Utah’s stupid laws don’t apply where I live and our stupid laws don’t apply in Utah.

    3. Federalism is not necessarily good or bad, because it can be used both to oppress and to fight oppression.

      1. Federalism is an entirely good principle

    4. Federalism is a tool to keep power from being too centralized. It’s not a good unto itself or a guiding principle. There is no contradiction in saying that federalism is overall a good thing and that some states have terrible laws that you shouldn’t feel bad about breaking.

    5. Bingo.

      Diversity is great as long as everyone is forced to live the way I want them to live.

    6. Nobody’s suggesting Federalism is broken, here. Utah’s broken, and being stupid.

      The good news is, a State being stupid only oppresses its own citizens, so the damage done while a State’s stupidity is being demonstrated and hopefully corrected is minimized.

  3. Perhaps treatment for your alcoholism is covered by your health insurance?

    1. Alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

      1. Alcohol is the expedient by which the body propels itself from one day to the next.

  4. How about “Make your Utah vacation better by avoiding fucking Utah.”

    I had a layover at the SLC airport once. looking at the scenery, I though it looked like Reno and smelled like piss.

    I thought huge chunks of Nevada were ugly until I saw Utah.

    1. Weird, Utah is one of the most beautiful states in the country. Outside the crazy liquor laws, which you can easiky work around, its a great place to live too.

      1. Salt Lake City is what Denver is supposed to look like.

    2. Utah is beautiful. A little dry, yes, but the snow is fantastic.

      1. The Wasach Mountains, the area around Park City and more are stunning.

  5. Finally, as a Pennsylvanian whose state was dragged kicking and screaming in the alcohol laws of the 20th century recently (yes, just 20th century), I can finally fee smug that we’re better than at least one state.

    1. When you say that about Pennsy and the 20th Century, keep in mind that the Volstead Act was a product of the 20th Century.

      Pennsylvania is, in fact, smack dab in the center of 20th Century thinking when it comes to liquor laws, and is being dragged, scheming and whining, into the 21st Century. The 20th Century was (sadly) characterized by the conviction that the Government knew best and should be allowed to stick its nose just about anywhere.

      1. The 20th Century was (sadly) characterized by the conviction that the Government knew best and should be allowed to stick its nose just about anywhere.

        And the 21st century isn’t?

        1. No,the 21st is a bit different. Instead of FedGov being “allowed”, they just DO IT and let the corrupt two bit local federal courts sort it out. And they ALWAYS side with gummit.

  6. You know what other loud-mouthed Italian smuggled booze when it was illegal?

    1. Mussolini?

    2. Dean Martin?

  7. A minor pet peeve as a former Utahn: the beer is 4% ABV. 3.2 is by weight, which no one outside Utah and Idaho uses as a measurement and shouldn’t be used to compare to other beverages

  8. Good. Now do similar gun control laws.

      1. Paul,

        What are your thoughts regarding the unfortunate happenings as reported in the article for which you provided a link?

        1. I’d say it’s justified. I think shooting a home invader is almost always justified. And a good deterrent to burglary.

  9. I spend every summer in Utah on my bike, hiking, doing all kinds of stuff. The alcohol laws are silly, but the country would be a freer place if it were all like Utah in other ways.

    Riding without a helmet is stupid, but you can ride without a helmet in Utah. Somebody’s already mentioned gun laws, I’m sure. If it isn’t about alcohol or drugs in Utah, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

    The following, in my experience, isn’t really a law but something that the locals do out of courtesy for local law enforcement, the Mormon church, or whomever. It seems to me, however, that pretty much anywhere you go in Utah, if they sell cold beer, they don’t sell bottle openers or they don’t sell it in cans.

    I’ve seen it a hundred times. “What do you mean you don’t sell bottle openers”?

    If knowing that you’ll need to bring your own bottle opener is the biggest hassle you get from government in your life, then you must be living a freer place than New York or California–alcohol laws or no alcohol laws.

    P.S. Some of this just seems to be cultural. Crying about how the local culture isn’t enthusiastic about supporting your favorite pastime doesn’t strike me as being very tolerant. Only being tolerant of other people’s religions when they don’t impact you in any way isn’t being tolerant at all. This is the tolerance of people in the wealthiest part of Carmel by the Sea, who hasn’t been in the presence of an African-American in a decade. That isn’t tolerance, and this is not a pipe:

    1. Who is crying? Tucille accepted the laws and found a workaround.
      And I’m not seeing why a state having good laws means you shouldn’t complain about the bad ones.

      1. Ken makes excuses for bad things. That is his function.

    2. Buh buh buh … flyover country is so icky and backwards!
      And Mormons!

  10. Oh, one of the reasons Obama inflicted a new national park on Utah–over their objections–was because state law was relatively libertarian on what you can do with your own land.

    If the state of Utah represents oppression, then this country needs more “oppression”.

  11. just before I looked at the paycheck four $6755, I accept that my friend could realey making money in there spare time online.. there friend brother haz done this less than 22 months and resently cleard the morgage on their appartment and purchased a great new Acura. I went here,

  12. If you look around in restrictive states like Maryland, it’s impressive how many people receive regular shipments of books and antiques from wine country.

    Shipping books without a permit? That’ll cost ya…

  13. Guess who’s on the insufficiently docile short list for being stopped and Mirandized? “…anything you write can be held against you.”

  14. We shopped for some booze and a few groceries in Grand Junction before heading to Moab. Didn’t even realize we were hardened criminals.

  15. Back when the citizens of Washington State kicked the gummit out of the liquor business, then the booze nazis imposed some of the harshest booze taxes on the planet, the price of a given package of booze very nearly trippled. Coscto have one product on offer I was buying on a regular basis. It is a 1.75 litre package of their Kirkland brand vodka. After the tax rip job, I went to buy another, took one look at the new price, and put it back on the pallet. Next trip to California I stopped by the Costco in Redding on the way north and walked out that door with the same item for $16 and change. That week I was in my local Costco and priced the same item, same item numberso I KNOW it identical. In Washignton that $16 bottl eof booze is $38. Costco are smart… instead of just lising the price as one numbe,r they have a larger price placard…. price of the booze itself, the bottle tax, the litre tax, the excise tax, the sales tax on the product AND all the other taxes combined, and THEN the total. They are informing teir customers precisely how big a bite their gummit are taking.

    I simply refuse to buy ANY liquor in Washington.
    I’m really surprised they have not imposed some system of trying to catch folks that do what needs to be done to triple the strength of their booze budget. Techinically everything I buy out of state and bring in needs to be declared to Revenue, the “excise tax” calculated, and then paid to the rotters with their holey hands held out. The governor there these days is enough of a nazi he’s likely to address the legislature soon and have them wave their magic wand and come up with some system for “rectifying” the “travesty” of the “tax cheats” “stealing” from the gummit.

    And I have NO hope the citizens of Washington will go along with whatever scheme they impose.
    BevMo and Liquore Barn in California are happy to sell to anyone, and when paid in cash, there IS no record. Have your local friend drive you there in HIS car, then reload the stuff into your own.

    Foil them at every opportunity.

    1. I’m in QFC and see some bottle of rum on sale for like 7 bucks. They ring it up and the total comes to like 12.

      What? Didn’t the sale go through?

      No. Taxes. And apparently there are weird complications depending on the precise kind of booze, and size of bottle.

    2. If it’s that American-made “Six” vodka, the 1.75 liter bottle is about $11.50 here in Taiwan. Just about every convenience store carries beer, wine, and hard liquor and there’s no open container law. In fact, the passengers in a car can pass around a bottle of liquor, but the driver can’t be drunk. They’re really cracking down on drunk driving here.

  16. How can people who ingest no mind-altering substances believe in Mormonism?

    1. Going out in Utah’s sun can be mind-altering, especially if you didn’t pack enough to drink.

  17. Beer and wine are fine. I am sure the folks in Utah dont mind so long as you keep it chill.

    For some reason reading through the article and what people had to say, it was someplace someone on a fictional road trip in the desert with some illegal stuff involved.

    “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.”
    Hunter S. Thompson

    I do not know why it triggered that memory of something I read long ago. Sometimes life is just ridiculous and we should laugh about it.

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought alcohol was outlawed in many, if not most, national parks. So even if Utah repealed every single one of their liquor laws, it would still be illegal to drink in Bryce and Zion NPs, if they’re on the list that prohibits. Not trying to justify Utah’s rules, just wondering.

  19. Having lived in the theocratic state of Utah for 8 years, there’s a couple of additonal points I can add about the liquor laws:
    The state run liquor stores are terrible. Expect long lines, old dusty stock, warm beer and surly underpaid staff. The markup on “heavy” beer is the same as liquor; so your six of regular beer ($12-15) can be more expensive than a pint of vodka, making for some real head scratching.
    There’s still a confusing web of dining issues when looking to have a drink with a meal: is this a pub, a bar, a resturant or something else? At restaurant’s you have to order food in order to get a drink, at pubs there’s no wine sold, only beer, and it’s impossible to know what your getting when you arrive, so you really have to ask.
    Finally, you can’t ship beer out of Utah, I homebrew and it’s illegal to send beer out of state to be judged (for free) without a liquor license.
    Anyway, keep bootlegging, it’s a way of life here in the Theocratic republic of Utah.

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