Iowa Alcohol Laws: They Might Surprise You – Discover More

This page will help you understand Iowa alcohol laws and avoid expensive fines or even jail. Not to mention time and embarrassment.

Iowa alcohol laws apply to both residents and visitors. Drinking laws differ across the country. Even within states. So it’s easy for visitors to forget that Iowa’s laws may differ from those at home, But ignorance of the law is no legal excuse.

Carry Nation made history here with her hatchet. The state was very pro-prohibition. But today Iowa alcohol laws are very mainstream.

I.   Minimum Ages
II.  More Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV.  Legal Advice

I. Minimum Ages

Many young people would like to work part-time. There are many jobs in hospitality. What is the minimum age age for serving alcohol in a restaurant? How about for being a bartender? And what is the age for selling alcohol for consumption off-premises?

Young people have questions. So we have answers.

Iowa alcohol laws permit adults to serve alcohol in venues for on-premises drinking. Of course, an adult is anyone at least 18 years old.

Adults may also work as bartenders. And they may work selling distilled spirits (liquor) for off-site use. Persons 16 years or older may sell beer and wine for drinking elsewhere.


Iowa alcohol laws
Standard drinks have equal alcohol.

The age distinction between selling spirits and selling beer and wine comes from an old myth. And that’s the belief that spirits are more alcoholic than beer or wine.

But standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits have the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s six-tenths of one ounce. They’re the same in alcohol content.

Those of any age under 21 may drink in any home if a parent or guardian is present.

It’s also legal for those under 21 (including adults) to be in licensed venues. But localities may have ordinances making it locally illegal. That’s because of local option.

It is a crime to use a false ID to buy alcohol. Retailers may seize IDs that appear to be false. Conviction for using such an ID may result in driver license suspension.

It is illegal for those under 21 to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than 0.02%.

II. Other Iowa Alcohol Laws

Iowa’s drinking laws prohibit anyone of any age from drinking in public. Any non-adult (anyone age 17 or under) convicted can have their driver’s license revoked. Note that the offense is drinking, not intoxication.

A. Selling Alcohol

Licensed businesses may sell and serve alcohol 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday  On Sundays the hours are 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

The hours during which businesses may legally deliver alcohol to locations off- site are different. They are Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Sundays the hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

State government monopoly stores control the sale of spirits. So they have less selection, higher prices, and bureaucratic service.

It is also against the law for an alcohol seller to provide alcohol to anyone under age 21. The fine is $1,500 if committed by the alcohol license holder (licensee). If an employee sold the alcohol, the fine is $500.

Here are the penalties for a licensees who sell alcohol to anyone under 21.

For a first violation the penalty is a $500 fine or a 14 day suspension of the alcohol license. A second violation within two years brings a 30 day license suspension and a fine of $1,500.

If a third violation occurs within three years the punishment is a 60-day license suspension and a $1,500 fine. A fourth violation brings a permanent revocation of the alcohol license.

Alcohol sellers may legally confiscate what they believe to be false IDs. They must provide a receipt for it. Then they must submit the suspicious IDs to police.

B. Buying Alcohol

iowa alcohol lawsIt’s illegal for adults aged 18 through 20 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol. The state punishes the first violation with a fine of $100. A second carries a fine of $500. In addition, the violator must choose between two punishments. One is a substance abuse evaluation. The other is a driver’s license suspension for up to one year.

For a third or later violation the fine is $500. The state revokes the license for up to one year. A juvenile court handles the matter if the violation was by a non-adult.

C. Driving

Alcohol Testing

iowa alcohol lawsIowa’s drinking laws requires drivers to submit to alcohol testing if requested by police. Everyone has the Constitutional right to refuse. But the penalty for using that right is a is license revocation for one year.

Yet drivers who take the test and are over 0.08% have their licenses revoked for 180 days. That’s half the penalty for using their Constitutional right. (On the other hand, if a personal injury occurred, the state revokes the license for one year.)

Field Sobriety Tests

Note that these penalties do not apply to refusing to submit to a field sobriety test. These tests are not reliable. For example, 30% of people with a zero BAC (0.000%) fail under ideal indoor conditions. That is, about one in three completely sober people fails them.

So lawyers strongly advise people to never take them. And they say to politely but firmly refuse. Also to continue doing so as long as needed.

But following lawyers’ advice may take great willpower. After all, police love the tests. They have clever ways to get people to take them. Some even falsely say the law requires it. That’s not true. In fact, no law in any state requires it.

Sometimes officers say you can prove you’re not impaired by passing the test. In fact, you don’t need to prove your innocence. To the contrary. The state must prove that you’re guilty! And police don’t consider passing a field sobriety test to prove innocence!

As a mater of fact, police can legally lie to you while investigating. In this situation, officers are not your friends. They suspect you’ve committed a crime. And are trying to prove it. So don’t give in.

Learn much more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

D. Boating

iowa alcohol lawsIowa alcohol laws prohibits anyone from boating with a BAC of 0.08% or higher (BWI).

For a first conviction, the state fines people up to $1,000. The penalty may include at least two days in jail, and revocation of the boating license for one year.

Upon a second conviction, the state fines people up to $5,000. They may go to jail for at least seven days. Finally, the state may revoke their operator’s license for two years.

iowa alcohol lawsFor a third and later conviction, people face a fine of up to $7,500. The state may jail them for up to one year. It may also revoke their license for six years.

In addition, those convicted of BWI must take substance abuse evaluation and treatment. They must also take a course for drinking drivers.

The state adds severe penalties in addition to these if the BWI causes injury or death.

Alcohol Testing

Iowa’s alcohol law requires boaters to submit to alcohol testing. The state punishes people who use their Constitutional right to decline. It does so by fining them up to $500. In addition, the state revokes their boating license for up to one year.

III. Resources for Iowa Alcohol Laws

IV. Legal Advice about Drinking Laws in Iowa

Iowa alcohol laws can be hard to understand. It’s the same in other states. Laws can change. Courts can change their interpretation. Laws can conflict. Lawyers  go to law school for years. So do not rely on this site. Nor on any other site.

And be aware. Friends may give opinions. Neighbors may chime in. Kin may give advice. Co-workers may give their stories. What they give is worth about what you paid. That is, not a lot. Worse, it may be wrong.

iowa alcohol lawsGet facts and advice about Iowa alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer who holds a license in the state.

But local alcohol attitudes and enforcement practices exist across the state. So it’s wise to choose a lawyer very familiar with your locality. And one who does many DWI cases.