Alcohol, The Law, and You

A Survey of the Numerous and Sometimes Bizarre State, County, and City Laws Regarding the Sale, Purchase, and Consumption of Beer, Wine, and Liquor

Knoxville has seemingly always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol, going so far as prohibiting it 12 years before Prohibition became national law in 1919. But, as a New York Times headline noted in 1908, "KNOXVILLE'S BAN ON LIQUOR FAILS; More Sold Now Than Before the Tennessee City Went Over to Prohibition." Yep, that's us.

Since then, sellers and imbibers of alcohol here have continued to face a vast array of laws regulating every aspect of the alcohol transaction. Why, you may be breaking the law right now and not even know it! That's why we've compiled this handy guide to all the laws you need to know when it comes to taking a drink in this town.

First: What Are "Intoxicating Beverages," Exactly?

There are three types of intoxicating beverages as defined by state law:

(1) "Beer" is defined, somewhat circularly, as "beer." Other than beer, beer can also be "ale or other malt beverages, or any other beverages having an alcoholic content of 5 percent or less.

(2) "Wine" is "the product of the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of fresh, sound, ripe grapes, with the usual cellar treatment and necessary additions to correct defects due to climatic, saccharine, and seasonal conditions, including champagne, sparkling and fortified wine of an alcoholic content not to exceed 21 percent by volume.

(3) "Alcoholic beverages" are everything else with an alcoholic content of 5 percent or more.


Who Are the Beer Police?

The sale of beer is regulated by city and county beer boards, which have the power to grant and revoke beer permits. There are four primary types of beer permits available: on-premises (restaurants and bars); off-premises (grocery stores and gas stations); wholesalers; and manufacturers. Beer sellers may also apply for on- and off-premises permits and on- and off-premises with dancing permit in the city of Knoxville. Brewers may sell both on and off premises as well, provided they produce no more than 5,000 barrels per year.

Dancing + Beer = Incredible Danger!

Apparently, much consideration has gone into the city's regulation of beer and dancing—which are clearly too dangerous to mix. From city of Knoxville Code: (a)  No beer shall be sold on premises upon any part of which dancing is allowed, unless the cleared area provided for dancing shall contain at least one hundred forty-four (144) square feet of floor space. In computing the cleared area of floor space, only the compact floor area used primarily for dancing shall be counted. No area upon which counters, tables, chairs or obstructions are located, and no aisles used primarily for providing access to tables, shall be included in computing such cleared floor space.

(b)  No beer shall be sold or consumed on premises upon any part of which dancing is allowed unless the part of such premises where such beverage is sold and consumed is separated from the other part of the building or premises where dancing is allowed by a partition or wall, railing, rope or other definite means of separation approved by the beer board, and such beverage shall not be sold or consumed upon the space set apart for dancing.

(c)  No beer shall be sold or consumed on premises upon any part of which dancing is allowed if any minors are permitted upon any part of the premises. It is hereby declared a misdemeanor to permit minors on premises upon any part of which dancing is allowed at any time that beer is sold and consumed.

Knox County has no such stipulations on dancing and drinking beer.

Why You Can't Find Beer at Church. Or At Your Mechanic's.

The city also prohibits on-premises beer permits within 300 feet any school building, hospital, church building, or any funeral home, and off-premises beer permits within 50 feet of schools, hospitals, churches, funeral homes, and on-premises retailers. The city does not apply these standards in the downtown and Old City areas, nor does it apply them to businesses that also have a liquor-by-the-drink permit. Also automotive and truck repair facilities may not obtain a beer permit.

Knox County location laws vary depending on area zoning ordinances.

Against All Logic, Nudity and Beer Do Not Mix Here

Neither city nor county allows any strip clubs ("cabarets," to use the governmental euphemism) to sell any type of alcohol, though Knoxville law allows businesses a BYOB option from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Are You Immoral? No Selling Beer for You!

Who can't sell? Anyone convicted of violating state or local alcohol laws or a crime of "moral turpitude" (for which definitions vary) within the last 10 years.

Beer Permits, Cheap But Not Plentiful

Cost for beer permit: $250 + $20 city and/or county business license + $25 publication fee for notice in the newspaper + $25 criminal record check fee = $320. In addition, there is a $100 yearly privilege tax.

Beer permits in Knoxville: 579, about one for every 300 people, nearly six per square mile.

Beer permits in unincorporated Knox County: 156, about one for every 1,334 people, less than half a beer permit per square mile.


Who Are the Wine and Alcoholic Beverage Police?

Sales of high-alcohol beverages are regulated by the state, specifically the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a licensing body with the legal power to investigate any business under its jurisdiction without a search warrant. According to state law, municipalities in Tennessee may "opt in" or "opt out" of liquor sales. Some, like Knoxville, opt in entirely, allowing wholesalers, retailers, and liquor-by-the-drink sales. Others may exclude individual types of alcohol retailers. Locally, family-friendly vacation destinations Pigeon Forge and Townsend allow beer and wine by the drink, but neither liquor-by-the-drink nor package liquor retail. Most famous in the state is Moore County, county seat Lynchburg, which is completely dry but for one licensed manufacturer and one licensed package retailer. Both are the Jack Daniel's Distillery.

Wine and Winery Laws: Somewhat More Sane, But Groceries Are Still Out of Luck

Wine laws fall under the provisions of the Tennessee Grape and Wine Law. Until recently, that law had some of the most stringent requirements in the country. Wineries in state had to be licensed to a state resident who had been here for at least two years. Wineries had to use 75 percent Tennessee grapes to be able to sell their own bottles on their premises. And Tennesseeans were not allowed to have any wine shipped to them from inside or outside the state. But late last year the 6th Circuit Federal Appeals Court found that the old Tennessee law was unconstitutional. State legislators have since repealed the residency and in-state fruit requirements, and allowed small amounts of wine to be shipped directly to consumers.

What hasn't changed:

(1) Wineries may give away samples of their products and sell bottles for off-premises consumption, but must get a waiver from ABC to sell wine that will be drunk on premises.

(2) It is still illegal to sell wine at grocery stores.

While application fees are $300 for any ABC license, licensing fees themselves vary. Wineries are subject to lower annual licensing fees ($150) than liquor stores ($850), distillers ($1,000) or restaurants serving liquor by the drink ($750 to $1,200, as much as $2,000 for resorts and stadiums). Similarly, wine-only restaurants pay between $270 and $350 annually.


The Intoxicating Spirits: Who Can Sell What to Whom

There are four basic types of liquor licenses in the state. The first three are pretty inter-related, so we'll start with them.

(1) Manufacturers' licenses

(2) Wholesalers' licenses

(3) Retailers' licenses

In terms of who is allowed to sell to whom, it's sort of a chain here. Manufacturers are only allowed to sell to wholesalers, who are in turn only allowed to sell to retailers. However, manufacturers may also obtain a retailers' license, but may only sell what they produce at their facility. Wholesalers cannot sell alcohol directly to customers.

The Rules of Liquor-Store Locations: Stay Away From Our Mortuaries!

In Knoxville, no liquor store may operate within 500 feet of a church, school, park, recreational facility, hospital, mortuary or other similar public place or within a residentially zoned area, or within 1,000 feet of any other liquor store. The park provision does not apply within the Central Business Improvement District. That exception was put in place for Downtown Wine & Spirits, which is closer than 500 feet to Krutch Park.

Knoxville has a limit of six wholesalers allowed within the city. Right now, it only has five.

City law allows one liquor store for ever 5,500 county residents as of the last census. At 382,000 residents, that would be about 69.5 liquor stores. Knoxville, however, only has 44.

Random Liquor Store Laws: Don't Bother Running for Office if You Have Liquor On Your Hands

• Liquor stores may only sell alcoholic beverages. That's why you can't get a corkscrew or a bottle of cranberry juice there.

• Liquor store owners and wholesalers may not hold elected office.

• Liquor stores and wholesale facilities may not be used as living quarters.

• Liquor stores are not allowed to display political materials.

• Advertisements proclaiming alcoholic beverages to be therapeutic or curative are illegal.

• Games, wherein alcoholic beverages are given away as prizes, are also illegal.

Liquor by the Drink: Live Near Highway 421? Or an 18-Hole Golf Course? You Win!

Where it's allowed: Lots of places. Restaurants (and bars), hotels, and private clubs, of course. But also museums, zoos, historic mansions, aquariums, and "any facility located off U.S. Highway 421 in any county having a population of not less than seventeen thousand four hundred seventy-five nor more than seventeen thousand five hundred seventy-five, according to the 2000 federal census or any subsequent federal census... which is located next to an 18-hole golf course.

Liquor by the Drink: It's the Law. Really.

Advertising: Don't Even Think About Being Inconsistent With the Inconspicuous Presence

"Television advertising of liquor-by-the-drink licensees may show normal scenes of activity within the restaurant portion of any such licensee. Consumption of alcoholic beverage may not be shown nor may alcoholic beverages be the central focus of any such advertising. Any scene which is inconsistent with the inconspicuous presence of alcoholic beverages as a normal accompaniment to restaurant food service is specifically prohibited."

"Audio portions of television broadcasts and radio broadcasts shall contain no reference to the availability of alcoholic beverages. However, use of the word ‘beverages' in broadcast advertising which principally relates to food service is not considered to violate this section. Use of the following in broadcast audio advertising is specifically declared to be in violation of this rule: drinks, happy hour, attitude adjustment hour, cocktails, highballs, or any other language generally understood to refer to alcoholic beverages or a period in which their prices for alcoholic beverages are reduced."

Decorum: No Dancing With Customers, Especially You So-Called "B" Girls

"On-Premise Employees' Activities Restricted. An on-premise licensee shall not permit any employee to dance with customers or sit with customers on the licensed premises nor shall any customer be permitted to purchase food or drink for any such employee on the licensed premises. The presence of activity of so-called ‘b' girls is specifically prohibited."

Deals on Drinks: No Happiness After 10 p.m.

"Happy Hour Restrictions - No licensee or employee or agent of a licensee shall engage in any of the following promotional practices during the period beginning with 10:00 p.m., prevailing time, until the time set by law for closing of such licensed establishments:

(a) serve two or more drinks or containers of alcoholic beverages to a consumer at one time.

(b) sell, offer to sell, or deliver to any person or group of persons any drinks that are priced less than the price regularly charged for that drink in that size during the same calendar week, except at private functions not open to the public; or

(c) increase the volume of alcohol contained in any such drink during any calendar week without increasing proportionately the price regularly charged for such drink."