Liquor Laws Around the World

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

Alcohol works the same way in every country (it gets you drunk), but it’s sold a different way in almost every place on earth.

SWEDEN. Beer is available at bars, grocery stores, and restaurants throughout Sweden, but the alcohol content is fairly low: 3.5 percent alcohol by volume or less. Grocery stores can’t sell beer at all after 7:00 p.m. If Swedes want stronger beer, they have to go a Systembolaget, a chain of government-run liquor stores.

ENGLAND. There are thousands of pubs in England; millions of Brits casually drink in their local pubs every day. Nevertheless, to be caught drunk inside a pub is illegal in the UK.

NIGERIA. Nigeria has one of the biggest beer markets in the world, and consumes more beer than any African nation except South Africa. Guinness produces a third of its beer there. But because the country wants to protect its domestic beer industry, it’s illegal to import beer into Nigeria or to brew your own at home.

BOLIVIA. What’ll you have? If you’re in Bolivia, and you’re a woman, and you’re married, you can order a single glass of wine at a bar or restaurant. That’s it.

AUSTRALIA. In Sydney, the country’s largest city, there are some very specific liquor laws on the books to curb late-night revelry in the streets. After midnight, bars may not serve shots of spirits, alcohol in glasses, or four or more drinks at one time. After 3:00 a.m., they’re not permitted to serve more than two drinks to a single person. That means that if you’re grabbing a round of drinks for your friends, they have to come to the bar with you for an official head count.

SWITZERLAND. Absinthe, which contains thujone, an ingredient that is said to cause hallucinations, is illegal in many countries. It became legal in Switzerland in 2005, but may not be artifically colored. (Absinthe can be legally sold in the United States if it contains no thujone and is made without its other main ingredient, wormwood.)

CANADA. The “mixology” fad, in which creative bartenders infuse spirits with inventive flavors and then use them in drinks, has not hit Canada. That’s because Canadian bartenders in many provinces are not allowed to pre-flavor liquor with other ingredients. (Although they can do it on the spot if a customer specifically asks them to do it.)

THAILAND. Alcohol is legal in Thailand, except during certain parts of the day. Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores must stop selling booze from midnight until 11:00 a.m., and from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

INDIA. Each of the country’s 29 individual states determine their own drinking laws. While four states have banned the consumption of alcohol entirely, the rest have set legal drinking ages that range from 18 to 25. In the state of Maharashtra, it’s more complicated. There is no age restriction on wine, but you have to be 21 to drink beer, and 25 for hard alcohol. No matter what they’re drinking, though, citizens of Maharashtra must have a license to drink. To get one, they must fill out an application at a local Government Civil Hospital.

SCOTLAND. It may not be enforced, but in Scotland “propelling a cow” while drunk is against the law.

FRANCE. Less than a decade ago, drunk driving was a public health epidemic in wine-loving France, with about 4,000 people a year dying after crashing their cars while drunk. In 2012, the French government passed a law requiring all drivers to carry a single-use portable Breathalyzer in their cars. Drivers don’t have to use them, but the government figured that if people saw a Breathalyzer in their car while tipsy, they might think twice about driving.

EL SALVADOR. Drunk driving carries steep prison time and/or fines throughout the United States, but in El Salvador even a first DUI can put you in front of a firing squad. The laws are a little looser in Bulgaria—a second drunk driving offense carries the death penalty there.

GERMANY. Don’t drink and ride? Yes—getting caught on a bike while intoxicated can lead to a loss of a driver’s license, and to get it back, you have to be cleared by a government-sanctioned psychologist.

TURKEY. A lot of people around the world drink on Election Day— either to celebrate or lament. In Turkey, the sale of alcohol is banned on Election Day. Reasoning: sober people are more likely to vote, and to have clear heads when they do.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's newest volume, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader. The 29th volume of the series is chock-full of fascinating stories, facts, and lists, and comes in both the Kindle version and paperback.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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In Kentucky, it varies widely by county, and even within counties. My husband was once arrested for carrying a grocery bag with a 6-pack of beer in it in some area we weren't that familiar with. Then when we applied to adopt, we had to disclose any arrests. No one in the entire hierarchy of bureaucracies we dealt with could believe that was an actual crime.
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Many of the individual states in the US have odds laws. I remember getting yelled at in Maine when I dared to carry my beer from the bar to a table. At closing time, it is really closing time. The glasses are gone and there in no "nursing" that last drink. I noticed Ontario Canada changed the name of their provincial beer outlets from the classy "Brewer's Retail" to the more blunt "Beer Store".
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The part about Sweden is inaccurate. Bars serve anything to anyone 20+ and still standing. Being drunk in a bar is not illegal if you behave but serving a drunk recalls the serving permit from the bar. Common beer is around 5.2% - sold in bars, restaurants and "Systembolaget". Grocery shops may only sell 3.5% beer to 18+ customers, no alcoholic wine or spirits at all, and there is no enforced 7 PM deadline. Restaurants with permit can sell any strength drink to eating patrons between 11 AM and 1 AM, otherwise only non-alcoholic. Beverages below 2.25% is called non-alcoholic and may be sold and bought freely, like "light beer" and "non alcoholic cider".

Also Bulgaria doesn't have death penalty. Only a few countries in the World still has it.
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