ABV Legal Limits, Beer-Drinking Moose, Non-Drinking Fish, and Other Weird Booze Laws
Posted on June 07 2017
I was recently enjoying the pleasant weather by downing some beer on my back porch with a couple of friends when talk turned to ABV (alcohol by volume) levels. While I had been trying to get my friends to focus on ideas for new Southern Drinking Club-related gear and apparel, they were more interested in what beer I’d served up and how strong it was. When I told them it was Saint Arnold’s Bishop’s Barrel #13, one of them noted that at 12% ABV, Bishop’s Barrel #13 was like drinking two-and-a-half beers in one, and wondered how many he could down in one sitting without any noticeable repercussions.
Turns out we are not the only ones that enjoyed this beer, photo credit to Hank Lewis-HankOnFood.com
My other buddy noted that 1) Bishop’s Barrel #13 was “sipping beer;” 2) that it was a weeknight; and, 3) therefore certainly not a good night for any alcohol-induced repercussions. He then said that if we lived in Tennessee we wouldn’t be having this conversation because the legal ABV there was only only 8%.
I had to correct him on that score, because, as a Southern Drinking Club Member and know-it-all with regard to most things related to drinking, I knew that Tennessee does not regulate beer by ABV, but by ABW, which is “alcohol by weight.” I also knew that Tennessee’s 8% ABW translated into about 10.1% ABV, which, while among the lowest in the South, was better than that state’s pre-2015 ABW of 5%, or roughly 6.2% ABV.
Anyhow, so much for brainstorming about new Southern Drinking Club Tumbler colors or new drinking shirt designs. Nope, we spent the next two hours pretty much talking about state ABV limits in beer and other weird state laws relating to alcohol. Naturally we don’t always agree, but that’s where an iPad and Google come into play. And because I now know all about state ABV levels, and about weird state laws relating to beer and other libations, I’m going to share some of this knowledge with you.
Weird Liquor Laws
Let’s start by what my friends and I agreed has to be the most absurd beer-related law in the country. This bit of absurdity was recently enacted in the State of California which would undoubtedly regulate their citizens’ underwear color choices if given half the chance. Anyhow, California, which leads the nation in microbreweries—more than 100 in San Diego alone—and wineries, also leads the nation in number of college-level classes and degree programs that help support the burgeoning industry. After all, college educated brew masters and vintners are sure to excel at making the best beers and producing the finest wines.
That is unless the underage budding brew master and/or vintner are allowed to sample the wares during their education.
The innovative geniuses who run the state found a work-around though, with the aptly nicknamed “Sip and Spit” law, which allows underage college students to “participate in sensory analysis” of their chosen field of study, but without swallowing. The key tenets of this 2015 law are that:
“qualified” students may “taste” but not swallow the beer or wine
“taste” means draw an alcoholic beverage into the mouth, but does not include swallowing or other forms of consumption (I think this was pretty much already made clear)
“qualified” means 18 years or older and enrolled in a degree program for enology (study of wines) or brewing
an authorized instructor above the age of 21 must be in control of the alcoholic beverage (guess that means the instructor will hold the actual mug or glass)
“tasting” is not allowed in any location beyond where the “sensory” course takes place
the law does not allow students under age 21 to taste wine or beer outside of an educational setting (yeah, they already made that clear…dummies).
That's a whole lot of spittin
To give the State of California a bit of leeway, I’ve got to admit that we learned that other key wine- and brew-making states have similar laws on the books. The absurdity comes from the fact that California was the last of them to figure out that a brewmaster or winemaker might need to taste their wares.
A close runner-up in weird ABV levels/laws comes from within our Southern homeland via our right-next-door neighbor Oklahoma, which has decreed that beer over the 4% ABV (3.2% ABW) limits can only be sold at room temperature.
This was an eye-opener because I had long wondered how I found myself sitting on a curb in Norman, OK many years ago drinking piss-warm beer after watching my Texas A&M Aggies football team get slaughtered 77-0 by the Oklahoma Sooners. My dejected self sitting on a curb had always made sense, but that warm beer—not so much.
…and moving to the northwest, Utah is especially archaic with regard to its ABV/ABW, because beer sold in grocery stores is limited to a 4% ABV (3.2% ABW), while pretty much anything goes with beer sold by most bars and restaurants. That is as long it’s served in a bottle, and with a side plate of food. Draft beer is another doggy-downer with that same 4% ABV limit found with grocery store beer sales.
Brigham Young looking rather smug after signing a law pretty much banning good beer being sold from refrigerated grocery stores
Colorado is another state that restricts ABV limits for beer sold in grocery stores. You can find all the high ABV brew you want in dedicated alcohol retail stores, but anything sold from a grocery store has to be 3.2% ABV or less. We would guess that grocery stores there don’t look to beer sales to boost their margins.
For some real idiocy with regard to beer sales we’ll look to the north, where the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan prohibit the sale of “non-alcoholic beer” to those under 21. No comment about “idiocy” or “absurdity” needed here, as these laws go well beyond both.
Also up north, the state of Maine has an interesting beer law on the books that allows bars and restaurants to serve beer and alcohol starting at 6 am on particular Sundays. That is, those few particular Sundays in a given decade that might happen to fall on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day. While that probably makes for a few early risers up in Maine on those rare occasions, folks out in Arizona who enjoy an early morning beer probably don’t worry about setting the alarm because beers sales there start at 6 am every day.
Not sure a Bud is worth crawling out of bed that early
Here in my state of Texas there are all kinds of blue laws regulating the purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol. Of course, given that there are 254 counties, and that each county can set its own laws regulating beer and alcohol, and well, you’ve got yourself a potential schizophrenic mishmash of regulations. But really, it’s pretty much a case of what you can drink where, as some counties only allow beer, while others allow all spirits but only in restaurants, and only a select few prohibit all drinking outright. Chances are, if you want to find a beer (or three) you’re not going to have any trouble. But if you do find yourself in a buzz-kill dry county, just drive an hour or so in any direction and you’ll undoubtedly soon find some beer (or other alcoholic beverage).
There’s also a law in Texas that makes it illegal to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing.
Really? Well, the guys at Brash Brewing get around this one with ease with their 5 o’clock shotgun, which only takes one sip to drink each beer.
Oh, and Texas bonus if you’re underage and with a parent or spouse who’s of drinking age. Texas is one of only ten states that allows parents to buy a drink for their accompanied minor child, and of-age spouses can legally buy drinks for their underage partners.
During our debate and study about the weirdest beer laws, my friends and I determined that the world’s strongest beer, at 67.5% ABV, is “Snake Venom,” brewed by Scottish Brewery Brewmeister. The strongest beer actually brewed in America appears to be “Dave,” by Portland, Oregon’s Hair of the Dog brewery. However, from what we gather a bottle will likely set one back $2,000 or so, which definitely puts it out of our price range. After that comes Boston Brewing Company’s “Utopia,” with a price of about $200 for a recently reported ABV of 29% (a 2% rise from its 2013 ABV).
Club Member Darren had to at least ask his lovely bride....who quickly told him he was out of his f'n mind.
ABV Legal Limits for Beer
This raised the question as to where exactly one could find such high-potency brews, so we tried to figure out which of our Southern states would allow the purchase of either “Snake Venom” or “Utopia” and came up with the following determination as to what beer ABV limits have been set for each Southern state:
Alabama—13.9%, so no way to get either Snake Venom or Utupia.
Arkansas—None, so both should be legal.
Florida—None, so go for it!
Georgia—14%—So forget it!
Kentucky—Unclear, but 20 of the state’s 120 counties are completely dry (Yipe!).
Maryland—Unclear as controlled at the local level, but it’s a toss-up as to whether Maryland even counts as “Southern.”
Mississippi—10%, though must be below 6.3% when sold in grocery stores.
North Carolina—15%, but there is apparently movement afoot to get this raised.
Oklahoma—Anything above 4% must be sold at room temperature.
Tennessee—10.1%, but above 8% must be sold in state approved liquor stores.
Texas—Sales of any alcohol above 15.5% requires an additional license, and 11 counties are completely dry.
Weird Booze Laws
And by this point in our analysis we were feeling the affects of the 12% Bishop’s Barrel and turned our analytical attention beyond ABV limits and learned a bit about weird laws regulating other booze.
Among the odd drinking-related laws is one in Washington, DC that nullifies penalties for underage drinking if the minor is discovered consuming alcohol through a medical emergency.
I know, right!—just think of all those emergencies you had back in school that could have been solved by consuming a lot of beer.
Up there in Alabama wine sellers better watch their labels, ‘cause it’s illegal to sell any bottles with immodest or sensuous imagery.
Guess those God-fearing ‘Bama legislators were worried about what sort of immoral and licentious imagery might cross state lines from those godless countries of France, Italy and California.
Apparently it’s illegal to give alcohol to fish in the state of Ohio. Not sure why this became the law of the land up there, but it kind of hinders the meaning of “drink like a fish.”
The state of Alaska has a similar measure that makes it illegal to serve beer to moose. Whether because moose like beer, or Alaskans are just so bored that that’s what they do for fun, we don’t know; however, little doubt that a drunken moose could cause havoc.
You ever been moose-hump-a-buffalo-statue drunk?
In Colorado it’s illegal to drink while on horseback. Well, this makes sense as those wannabe cowboys can barely ride a horse when sober.
In what marks typical bureaucratic idiocy, in the state of Utah you can order two drinks at the same time for yourself, but can’t order a double. Remind me, do they have a similar law for spouse numbers?
In Massachusetts “happy hours” and any sort of drink specials are strictly prohibited. Of course, given the state’s “Taxachusetts” nickname, this makes sense as reduced prices means a reduction in sales tax receipts.
We talked about some other odd state drinking laws, but I think I covered the silliest of them here. Mind you, by this point in our evening the Bishop’s Barrel was making us feel a mite bit silly. Silly enough that we discussed driving up to Ohio so we could break the law by getting a fish soused, and considered what an encounter with a drunken moose might be like.