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One might think, given the tiny budgets and starvation wages the state of Utah imposes on its liquor monopoly, that the state officially looks down on the whole business of alcoholic beverages.

It just doesn't want anyone else to look down on the bar area at Salt Lake City's shiny new performing arts center.

The good news, though, is that the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is willing to buy some of their underpaid and under-appreciated employees a drink. As long as they promise to not actually drink it.

Yes, a lot's been going on in Utah's weird world of booze.

The latest report on DABC management from State Auditor John Dougall again calls the agency out for antiquated inventory control and dings the Legislature for leaving the liquor store chain with only a $46.6 million annual operating budget out of $400 million in annual sales.

The rest, happily enough, goes to support other state operations, specifically the school lunch program and its public safety operations, at a benefit to taxpayers generally.

But with so little cash flow returned to the operation that raised it, wages paid to clerks and managers are the lowest of all the states where government — rather than the private sector — runs the show.

After years of reports and audits that reached the same conclusion, and blamed the low pay for high turnover and low customer satisfaction, it is hard to escape the notion that official Utah just finds the whole business of liquor sales distasteful and takes no pride in even trying to do it right.

Running counter to that feeling, meanwhile, is the fact that DABC has hired someone who actually knows something about wine — certified wine educator Wendy Caron — and that her job is to pass some of that knowledge along to some store managers and clerks so that they will have some grasp of the products they are selling. The eight-week course involves the traditional sniffing, swishing and spitting (the object is to learn, not forget) and shows some long-overdue concern for operating the state's liquor stores as a business that really cares about its customers.

But, on the off chance that DABC was going to be the butt of fewer jokes, the agency recently threw its critics a bone. It's ordering the designers to make sure that no one can look down from the balconies of the new Eccles Theater and see alcoholic drinks being mixed or poured in the Encore Bistro, the newest absurd example of the state's absurd "Zion Curtain" law, which forbids such normal human activity from being visible to normal humans.

A step forward and two steps back. A sobriety test that Utah still can't altogether pass. Though it is getting closer.