Correction: This story has been updated to clarify details about local liquor laws.
For the Fourth of July holiday weekend, in all 50 states, one thing will be consistent: many Americans will be drinking. Last year, Americans spent $3.9 billion on alcohol (mostly beer) for July 4th, according to Capital One Shopping Research.
But the laws governing when, where and what kind of alcohol you can consume are different in every state. Like driving laws and school curricula, alcohol is regulated individually by state governments.
What do our nation’s drinking laws look like? While some things stay consistent — you need to be 21 to purchase alcohol and you cannot drink and drive — almost everything else varies per state.
So before you start your cross-country road trip, or head across state lines for a barbecue, here are the things you need to know about America’s liquor laws.
Buying alcohol on Sundays
Blue laws, or those designed to limit what people can do on Sundays, have mostly been repealed across the United States. We can still see the remnants in the nine states in which laws vary by county and the few that close state liquor stores (Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and Utah).
Buying alcohol in grocery stores
If you’re used to throwing beer or wine in your grocery cart – or having to drive to a completely different store to complete your shopping – the opposite might seem alien to you.
There is no common rule across the United States as to whether alcohol can be sold in grocery stores.
Whether or not hard liquor can be sold in grocery stores usually relates to if the state is a “control” state. This means state governments control the wholesale retail of distilled spirits and, in some cases, wine and beer. According to the National Beverage Control Association, 17 states fall into the “control” category, and in 13 of those, the government controls retail sales for off-premises consumption, meaning there are state-owned or state-designated liquor stores.
Many states have moved to expand what can be sold in grocery stores to include beer and wine, but only 21 states allow the sale of hard alcohol outside of liquor stores.
No happy hour
A handful of states do not allow happy hours, or a time when drinks are discounted, usually immediately after the end of the typical work day.
Eight states don’t allow for after-work discounts. They include the following:
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Election day limits
Just two states, Massachusetts and Alaska still prohibit the sale of alcohol on election day, while polls are open. This dates back to a prohibition-era ruling due to the fact that some saloons served as polling places.
In both states, the sale of alcohol can resume after the polls close.
Up until 2019, all beer served at bars or sold in grocery stores in Utah had to be at or below 3.2% alcohol. This has now been increased to 5%. The only place to find more alcoholic beer is at distilleries or liquor stores.
Additionally, cocktails in Utah must have “shots” of 1.5 ounces of primary liquor and no more than 2.5 ounces of spirits total in one drink.
Other unique liquor laws
Utah is also home to other unique laws about liquor. The state prohibits the sale of miniature alcohol bottles or “minis”, with the exception of airplanes and hotels. Residents are also forbidden from shipping alcohol to their home, as this is considered a felony. There goes the wine-of-the-month clubs!
Nevada, in contrast to its neighbor Utah, is the only state where you can buy alcohol any hour of the day. Unlike other states with a designated time that bars must close (usually between 1 -4 a.m.), Nevada has not mandated “last call.”
Louisiana is known for originating the “drive-thru Daquaris” in the 1980s, a business model seemingly antithetical to nationwide anti-drunk-driving laws. However, these businesses operate legally, as patrons are advised to keep the container closed until returning home. In Louisiana, so long as the lid is intact, no straw is protruding from the cup, and the cup’s contents have not been removed, you’re good to go! The model has expanded to Mississippi, Texas, and Florida.