The Weirdest Alcohol Laws in America

Illustration for article titled The Weirdest Alcohol Laws in America

Growing up in New England, I got used to seeing the supermarket beer aisle shrouded in white plastic every Sunday, lest the alcohol tempt us at a sacred time (thanks Puritans!). The region certainly has some pretty restrictive alcohol laws, but they're hardly the oddest. For that, let's take a tour around the country to learn about Zion curtains and drunken horseback riding.


It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol.

In Colorado, horseback riding while drunk is like driving while drunk.

Last September, a visibly intoxicated to man in Colorado was trying to ride to his brother's wedding 600 miles away in Utah. Needless to say, he didn't make that far. The Colorado police arrested him on drunk driving, animal cruelty, prohibited use of weapons, and reckless endangerment. (They also found a pistol in his saddlebag and a dog in his backpack.)

"It's probably the first time in department history that we have pulled someone over for driving under the influence while on a horse," the police remarked at the time.

In Kentucky, bourbon is distilled in dry counties where alcohol sales are actually illegal.

It's the ultimate irony: Kentucky's famous bourbon distilleries are mostly scattered over rural parts of the state, the same parts that prohibit sales of all alcohol. By one count, 39 of the 120 counties of Kentucky are completely dry, and another 49 have some sort of restriction. Don't fret if you're on the Bourbon Trail, though, because the state legislature knows where its tourism dollars are coming from: it's has created a loophole to allow alcohol sales at "historic sites," aka distilleries.

In Utah, drinks have to be poured out of sight from patrons behind a "Zion curtain" at new restaurants.

Illustration for article titled The Weirdest Alcohol Laws in America

A Zion curtain in a Utah bar. AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson

Given the Mormon influence in Utah, byzantine restrictions on alcohol should come as no surprise. Restaurants that opened after 2009 have to pour their alcohol behind the so-called Zion curtain—often a pane of frosted glass—so that it's out of sight from non-drinkers and easily impressionable teens dining at the restaurant.


In the past, bars in Utah were once forced to operate as private clubs that charged drinkers a membership fee. That went away in 2009, so bars, if not restaurants, in Utah at least operate pretty much as normal.

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, you can't give animals alcohol in a public park.

Tuscaloosa takes protecting its parks pretty seriously. You can't dig up beach sand, hitch your horses to trees, or harm the wildlife. In fact, the law specifically makes it illegal to "give or offer, or attempt to give, to any animal or bird, any tobacco, alcohol, or other poisonous or noxious substances." (Remember, alcohol is a poison!) Presumably, there is no law against getting the squirrels in your backyard drunk but yeah, don't do that either.


In Oklahoma, beers have to be sold at room temperature.

Thinking about picking up a last minute six pack? Not in Oklahoma, where the laws prohibit the sale of refrigerated beer above 3.2% alcohol by weight (or 4.0% alcohol by volume, to go with a more standard measure). This does mean you can still get certain mass-produced beers from the cold aisle in Oklahoma, but your choices *cough* may leave something to be desired.


In South Carolina, no alcohol was sold on Election Day

This past summer, South Carolina became the last state in the nation to lift its ban on alcohol sales on Election Day. The law made a lot more sense when it was adopted back in 1882, the days when polling stations were actually sometimes set up in saloons. But now we put our polling stations in more appropriate places and six other states—Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Utah and West Virginia—have all lifted their Election Day alcohol bans since 2008. Now let's just give everyone Election Day off, so they'll actually go vote—and celebrate their patriotic duty in the bar afterwards.


In Alabama, your wine bottles can't be too sexy.

Illustration for article titled The Weirdest Alcohol Laws in America

In 2009, a wine bottle with this gravity-defying nude lady—taken from the poster for a turn of the century French bike company—was deemed to hot for sale in Alabama. After all, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board had the power to prohibit labels with "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner."

Of course, once word of the ban came out, sales of the offending wine shot right up, which just proves why we put nude ladies on labels in the first place.


Lead image: Shutterstock

This post originally ran in November, 2014




You know what sucks? Moving from California to Maryland. Here's why:

In California, you can buy beer, wine, and distilled spirits pretty much anywhere. At a liquor store, the grocery store, the corner store, 7-11, CVS, Walgreens, or even gas stations.

Maryland, like many Southern states, still has "blue" laws to a certain extent. Only 40 years ago, you could not go grocery shopping on Sunday in Maryland. To this day, you cannot buy alcohol at grocery stores. If you want beer or wine, you have to go to a beer & wine store. If you want liquor, you have to go to a state-run liquor store. Beer & wine stores don't sell liquor.

And Maryland is not alone. Many Southern states have "ABC" (Alcohol Beverage Control) or "package" stores - liquor stores either operated by the State or pursuant to a state charter.

Less than ten years ago, you couldn't buy beer before noon on Sundays in New York City (I was scolded more than a few times at the local Key Food when buying beers for Sunday football at 11 a.m.)

Blue laws have been challenged unsuccessfully over the years. In 1966, the Supreme Court upheld Maryland's blue laws because, although one purpose was to promote Christian church attendance, the laws forbidding stores from being open also allowed a uniform day of rest for workers. It would be another 15 years before the laws were loosened to allow people to actually get shopping and other chores done on the weekend.

Most Republican "small government" supporters live in places where they are just fine with the government telling them what alcohol a grown adult can buy and where and when they can buy it.