Several times a day, you might hear me mutter something like this: "Stupid #$%@ Utah liquor laws @#$@ what the @#$%&!" Indeed, one could pull out an entire head of perfectly good hair by obsessing about the inanity and strictness of this state's alcohol laws.
But these laws protect the children! If by, "protecting the children" you mean raking in fat cash, then yeah - the state DABC is really, really, really protecting kids from evils of the demon drink. To wit, last year's profit (not revenue) was a cool $47 million.
The lone bright spot within the morass of Utah's liquor monopoly is the state's wine selection. Sadly, there aren't great sales or case discounts. However, the diversity and breadth of Salt Lake City's wine collection will stand up to any mid-sized metro area not named Portland. For example, a Sherry lover like myself can easily find a Manzanilla or Fino. Icewine from Austria, Germany or Canada? Check. Burgundy & Bordeaux? Check again. Out-of-state guests I've brought into Salt Lake's downtown wine shop are always impressed by the selection.
Our good wine fortune is due to the palate of one man - the state wine coordinator, Brett Clifford (pictured, at right). Some refer to Brett as the 'Wine Czar.' Indeed, not a single wine hits Utah shelves without the approval of Mr. Clifford's palate. In fact, Utah is the only full-control state that employs someone like Brett. I've seen wines come and go. Usually when I inquire as to why the current vintage of a particular wine isn't available, the response is, "Brett didn't think the new vintage was worth the price."
Naturally, many of us independent-minded wine lovers might debate the merits of hitching an entire wine-drinking population to a single person's palate. Fortunately, Brett's palate is broad as evidenced by the collection. Yesterday, I sat down for a short interview with Mr. Clifford. We discussed his history with the Utah DABC, changes in liquor laws and a few of his favorite wine regions. Download the interview (mp3) here.