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Drink Your Way Across America

A new book aims to help keep thirsty travelers from being thwarted by blue laws.

Drinking cultures vary across the country. With this new manual, you can crack the code no matter where you are. (efenzi/istock)
Photo: efenzi/istock drinking

A new book aims to help keep thirsty travelers from being thwarted by blue laws.

There’s a new field guide to add to your collection and it has nothing to do with finding rare warblers. Put down your binoculars and raise your glasses, The Field Guide To Drinking in America is here.

“The book was born out of frustration, really. It’s for anyone who has ever been out on the road and has been stymied by the liquor laws or an early last call,” says Niki Ganong, author of the 230-page guide.

Blue laws are a bummer. There are few things worse than seeking out a cold beer after a day on the road and finding out you’re in a state that only sells beer at room temperature, not on Sundays, and not after 8 p.m.  

Ganong, a longtime spirits and beer writer, is originally from Pennsylvania, which has stringent liquor laws. The publisher of the book is from Indiana, which has its own strict booze laws. “We were talking about how both these states have these rules but that they’re totally different,” she says. The idea for a guide was born. 

The book breaks the country down into regions, and then tackles the states individually. Each state is paired with detailed essay on its drinking culture and contributions, followed by practical advice on how best to drink in that state, including tips on how to procure liquor and mix state-specific cocktails (like the Stone Fence in Vermont and the Burnt Trailer in Maine). 

Ganong says she was surprised by how much our drinking culture and customs vary. Sometimes suburban America looks totally homogenous—our strip malls and tract houses s cut from the same cloth. But how and what and when we drink is still highly regional. “It’s a big country with widely varying political and religious beliefs,” says Ganong. “In some places drinking really isn’t part of the culture. In other places, like Wisconsin, it is. There, alcohol is around everywhere. It’s at kids’ basketball games.” 

As might be expected, Ganong says Utah has the most stringent laws. “The rumor is true with Utah. They don’t allow cocktails to be made in front of patrons.” Utah bars have a piece a frosted glass partitioning off part of the bar called the “Zion curtain” that drinks are made behind. “But really the kooky laws are everywhere, almost every state has one—even Oregon,” Ganong’s hometown.

Since so many drinking laws stem from prohibition, The Field Guide To Drinking In America is a rich trip through temperance movement history. Anyone with interest in prohibition, bootlegging, or nefarious characters will enjoy flipping through the pages.

It’s also full of useful tips, like how to instantly cool down beer if you had to buy it at room temp—like you do in Indiana. “For that, find a large container and fill it with half ice and half water. Pour in two cups of salt, like way more salt than you think you need. Put the beer in the container and agitate it,” she says. In just a few minutes, your beer should be cold and your evening saved. 

Beware, though: The book will make you want to go on a (totally responsible) cross-country bender. “The thing I found as I was working was that every state I wrote about [51, which counts DC, are covered in the book] I sort of fell in love with it a little bit. Something about every state was really unique and made me want to go back,” says Ganong. From drinking moonshine in West Virginia to hitting every street in the U.S. that allows open containers, your life list just got a whole lot more fun.

Filed To: Wine, Beer, and Spirits / Food and Drink