Last Call: Midwest Liquor Laws

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We’re serious about our beer, but our laws about drinking it can be seriously twisted

Words by Sydney Price
Graphics by Emily VanSchmus and Jenny Krane

Midwesterners: Nearly everyone knows we’re serious about our beer. But some of our laws about drinking it are seriously twisted. Liquor is regulated at the state level, which makes the US a patchwork of oddly specific laws. Test your knowledge of your state below.

SOUTH DAKOTA


If you are between the ages of 18 to 20 and married to a partner who is 21 or older, you can purchase alcohol when your spouse is with you. (This is also true if you are accompanied by a parent or guardian.) If this is what it means to respect your elders, then we’re all in.

KANSAS


Kansas still has 10 “dry” counties where liquor cannot be purchased. The good news: None of them are near beer hotspot KC.

IOWA


A special “Sunday sales privilege” is required to sell alcohol on Sundays in Iowa. But when New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday (as it will next year), you can sell alcohol on that day without it. It gets weirder: In the city of Ames, a man cannot have more than three sips of beer while in bed with his wife. “Whoops, I accidentally had four sips. Sorry, honey!” We’re not sure how this one is enforced.

WISCONSIN


The land of Cheeseheads just nixed their last dry city: Ephraim. The town voted this April to allow alcohol sales for the first time in more than 160 years. Voters approved both a wine and beer referendum—wine received a more favorable vote than beer, gaining 68 percent “yes” votes to beer’s 56. And now the people of Ephriam have nothing to whine about.

ILLINOIS


A change in liquor laws last year gave the Prairie State one more thing to be happy about. Until 2015, it was illegal for bars with liquor licenses to host happy hour. Now, the discounted drinks can flow for up to four hours at a time until 10 p.m. But remember to take it slow and don’t go overboard on affordable alcohol—Illinoisans stay out late, and some bars don’t close until 5:00 a.m. We’ll drink to that.

OHIO


This one’s a little fishy. Though some Ohioans might drink like fish, they’re not allowed to give fish liquor. Next time you’re thinking of splashing some vodka into Goldie’s tank, don’t. (No word on whether goldfish were harmed in the making of this law.)

NEBRASKA


College football fans in the Cornhusker State have a tendency to go overboard on game day—perhaps that’s why the state figured they’d put a kibosh on liquor sales until noon Sundays. And fans can’t stay out too late – Nebraska bars close the earliest of the Midwestern states, at 1:00 a.m.

NORTH DAKOTA


In a tie with Kansas, the state has the lowest excise tax rate (paid by the retailer) on distilled liquor – only $2.50 per gallon compared to a whopping $8.55 in Illinois.

MISSOURI


Missouri’s open container laws apply only to the driver of a vehicle – passengers can drink freely. But be careful where you’re going, because some municipalities enforce more stringent open container laws that apply to all people in the car. Either play it safe and separate boozing and cruising, or know the law where you are.

MINNESOTA


Although many Midwest states have specific rules about alcohol sales on Sunday, Minnesota is the only state to completely ban alcohol purchases on the first day of the week. A group known as the Minnesota Beer Activists is working to get the law repealed.

INDIANA


This November 8, residents of Indiana were free to drink their election woes away —a luxury some Indianians didn’t have when Obama was elected eight years earlier. The state didn’t repeal an old ban on Election Day alcohol sales until 2010. Whether Hoosiers were celebrating or crying, they had the right to red, white and booze.

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