Drinking in Utah Is Surprisingly Great

State liquor laws have pushed local bartenders to get creative. 

On my first trip to Utah this summer, I sat down for dinner on a gorgeous sunny day at Kita, the ambitious, Japanese-inspired steakhouse at the Pendry Park City. As I ate fistfulls of fluffy milk bread smeared with sesame butter and studied the drink menu, unable to choose between sake, wine, or a cocktail. Then, my decision was made for me: a server carried the tiniest dirty martini I've ever seen to a nearby table.

When the same server reached me, I asked her if that had been a mini martini, and why, and could I have it? She explained that it was actually their normal-sized martini, which was teeny because of Utah laws that dictate how much hard alcohol can be served in a single beverage.

This was my first exposure to the many laws surrounding liquor in Utah. The server explained that hard liquor, before it hits your cocktail, passes through a metered dispensing device that attaches to the top of the liquor bottle, ensuring that no more than 1.5-ounces of "primary liquor" pours into a mixed drink at a time. (Per Utah law, cocktails can have "secondary alcoholic flavorings," but the drink cannot exceed 2.5 ounces total of spirituous liquor.)

"Quite often people are shocked about the size of the martinis," said TJ Consiglio, the general manager at Kita. But, he pointed out, the size adds to the fun: smaller cocktails mean smaller (way cuter) glassware styles. "Our Nic and Nora glasses are not often seen anymore but they fit our Utah martinis perfectly."

I soon learned of other state regulations: that beer on tap cannot exceed 5% ABV – though drinks served by the bottle can have any percentage – and that restaurants cannot serve drinks unless food is ordered.

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