Driving across the USA can be an enjoyable and educational experience. Your travelogue may include tips about hotels, restaurants and service stations, but may be missing a critical piece of the puzzle – laws regulating beer and alcoholic beverages across state lines. These laws can be complicated from state to state (or county to county), and can place you on the wrong side of the law without any intention of wrongdoing. Some of these laws are silly – initiated as a judicial interpretation in response to a particular incident, or as a ridiculous addendum, added to a referendum, in an attempt to gain a veto on a larger issue.
Some laws are residual laws, leftovers of the past – the “Blue Laws,” for instance. Contrary to popularized belief that these laws were printed on blue paper in pre-Revolutionary colonies of the New World, no evidence has been found to support this theory. The first reference to “Blue Laws” points to a book written in 1781 by Reverend Samuel Peters called General History of Connecticut. Peters describes “blue laws, i.e. bloody laws” that sanctioned harsh punishments in order to impose control and regulate moral behavior in Puritan New England. It is theorized that Reverend Peters invented the phrase “blue laws,” and that it originated from a deprecatory reference to a “bluenose,” or one who upheld a rigid code of moral conduct and supported oppressive and brutal punishments for opposing this moral code.
The “Blue Laws” included rules about attendance at church services, the sale and consumption of alcohol, the playing of games, lying, drunkenness, and crimes committed on the Sabbath. These laws eventually lost their steam, but reignited during the temperance movement of the late 19th century, when new reforms were legislated to regulate Sunday merchandising, cigarettes, alcohol, unnecessary labor on Sundays, and the censorship of books, music, and art.
Current Legislation of Alcoholic Beverages - 2007
As the ethnic makeup of America has expanded, there is an increasing multi-dimensionality among the beliefs of its citizens, making the “Blue Laws” an outdated embarrassment and infringement on the freedoms that America proclaims as “rights.” However, the laws, as written, are not changed – either because they are viewed as so ridiculous that changing them is a waste of time, or because the legislator who works for repeal is derided as an “irresponsible civic leader and social servant” by the opposing party.
The Federal Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act prohibits students under the age of 21, who are studying abroad, from following the customs and drinking regulations of the country in which they are residing. Does this not deny the student the full educational experience of exploring the cultural aspects of international societies?
Most legislatures mandate a "three tier system" throughout the USA - beer must go from the brewer or beer importer to the wholesale distributor to the licensed retail outlet, which includes a wide range of bars or stores that sell to the consumer. Some states require that the interior of a drinking establishment be out of public view. Others require that it must be open for all to see. The spectrum of regulations can be mind-boggling.
The Silly Beer Laws by U.S. State in the list below are, by no means, a complete list of laws governing beer or alcoholic beverages. They are merely a broad illustration of the range of regulations covered, from the ridiculous to the mundane.
Silly Beer Laws by U.S. State - from A-M
Silly Beer Laws by U.S. State - from N-W