Why Is This Beer Banned in 15 States?
A special edition Samuel Adams beer is helping to highlight silly state alcohol restrictions. Each fall, Samuel Adams puts out a new “Utopias” beer, with this year’s set to be released on October 11. The 2021 Samuel Adams Utopias clocks in at 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)—making it illegal in 15 states.
“If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia, don’t even look. Utopias is illegal in those states because of its high alcohol content,” according to the Samuel Adams website.
Your typical beer used to clock in around or under 5 percent ABV. But recent years have seen an explosion of craft beers—especially India pale ales—with 6, 7, or even 8 percent ABV, and many companies rolling out even higher-alcohol-content brews. (For comparison, wine tends to have an ABV around 11 or 12 percent, and spirits above 40 percent.)
Many states have ABV-based rules around where alcohol can be sold. For instance, in Mississippi, only beer at 5 percent ABV and under can be sold in grocery and convenience stores, though beer up to 10 percent ABV can be sold in specialty stores. In Ohio, liquor at more than 21 percent ABV can only be sold in liquor stores, though groceries and other stores can sell lower ABV spirits and liqueurs.
In addition, many states outright ban beer above a certain ABV, even though it’s perfectly legal to buy wine or spirits at that alcohol level.
“Such laws are largely holdovers from the demise of Prohibition, when states, concerned about the return of legal alcohol, imposed their own piecemeal restrictions as checks on drunkenness and alcoholism,” explained The Week a few years ago. “Like many blue laws, they’ve since sat on the books, growing dusty, outdated, and forgotten. That is, until the recent craft beer explosion.”
The good news is that a number of states have been responding to market forces and raising their limits for beer ABV. It’s a trend that began in the ’00s. “Montana raised its limit to 14 percent in 2008, while Vermont upped its cap to 16 percent,” notes The Week. “Alabama and West Virginia followed suit one year later, increasing their ABV limits to 13.9 percent and 12 percent, respectively, from 6 percent.”
In recent years, this trend has grown, with more states loosening ABV restrictions by locale or overall and some, like West Virginia, pushing them even higher. In 2019, West Virginia moved its ABV limit up to 15 percent.
Utah in 2019 finally let go of its rule requiring a limit of 4 percent ABV (or 3.2 percent alcohol by weight) for beers sold in grocery and convenience stores—though nonstate stores are still limited to selling 5 percent ABV beer. Kansas dismissed a similar rule back in 2017, allowing beer up to 6 percent ABV to be sold outside specialty stores. Minnesota now remains the only state where such a law is in place.
In 2017, Tennessee raised its overall beer ABV limit from about 6.2 percent to around 10.1 percent.
In 2016, Ohio said beer could go above 12 percent ABV so long as it’s labeled “high alcohol beer.”
But unlike Ohio, a number of states still cap their beer ABV limits in the mid-teens range no matter what sort of labeling it has.
This is especially true in the South. In Georgia, for instance, the ABV cap for beer is 14 percent. In North Carolina, it’s 15 percent and in South C
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