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No beer for Oktoberfest? Utah board gets tough on liquor permits

Published May 28, 2014 2:07 pm

Alcohol permits • Four-decade Snowbird tradition is at risk of having to go on without beer and wine.
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Fans of Snowbird Ski Resort's annual Oktoberfest will be able to enjoy a German bratwurst, but maybe not a mug of Hefeweizen, now that the state liquor commission is getting tough about granting single-event permits to businesses.

"We're trying to send a signal that we are tightening up and we are reluctant to grant [single-event permits] to for-profit organizations," David Gladwell, chairman of the state liquor commission, said Tuesday during the board's monthly meeting. "For those who have applied in the past, this is a change of direction and one that is probably unsettling."

Bob Bonar, general manager for Snowbird, said resort officials were caught off guard last week when they learned that the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) might not approve a special-event permit for its sixth annual Father's Day Brewfest scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15.

"That's tough for a business to take two weeks ahead of the event," Bonar told the board, especially since in previous years the permits were granted quickly and without question.

Under state law, single-event permits allow beer, wine and spirits to be served ­at one-time community and civic events. Groups and businesses are allowed up to 12 special-event permits per year.

After a long discussion, the liquor board granted the single-event permit for the Brewfest, but warned it might not do so for Oktoberfest, which runs Saturdays and Sundays from Aug. 16 through Oct. 12.

After the meeting, Bonar said the resort will try to work out a plan with the UDABC staff so that liquor can be served at Oktoberfest, a fixture at Snowbird for more than four decades.

"Not having a liquor permit for Oktoberfest would hurt a lot," Bonar said. "It's the second best thing we do after powder skiing."

The situation is an example of just how complicated Utah's liquor laws can be as Snowbird already holds 19 state liquor licenses for all its restaurants and bars. However, none of those licenses allows for booze in the outdoor area where Oktoberfest is held, Bonar said.

In recent months, the UDABC has been making all single-event requests pass a two-part litmus test that Executive Director Sal Petilos and the board say better follows the intent of state law.

Permits must:

1. Be for a one-time, unique event that lasts only a few days.

2. Be used by a civic or community group to promote a common good.

It's that second requirement where many businesses, which were once granted special permits without question, now fail the test.

During the meeting, Bonar argued that a "for-profit businesses should not automatically be disqualified," since that is not specifically spelled out in state law.

"Adopting that takes Utah back 25 years," he said.

But the board is standing firm, granting permits only to nonprofits for such things as cancer fundraisers or ethnic festivals.

"The wording [of state law] tips in favor of nonprofits and charities," Gladwell said.

Under the new test, at least two businesses have been denied special permits that they once received without question.

The Homestead Resort in Midway was denied a special-event permit for its crawfish boil over Memorial Day weekend.

It was able to get a special tavern permit, which allowed beer to be sold, but no wine or hard liquor.

And in February, the concessionaire for the Maverik Center failed to score three single-event liquor permits that would have allowed wine and cocktails to be served at six Grizzlies hockey games.


Liquor in Utah

USA Today once called Utah's liquor laws "the nation's most restrictive, exotic and confusing."

On Wednesday at 12:15 p.m., the DABC's Sal Petilos and Nina McDermott and Tribune reporter Kathy Stephenson join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to discuss what's legal, what's not and recent policy changes that could affect how, when and where you can get a drink.

You can join the discussion by sending questions and comments to the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+. You can also text comments to 801-609-8059.