Kentucky Alcohol Laws: Not Just about Moonshine

Kentucky alcohol laws cover all aspects of alcohol. Kentucky is famous for its Bourbon. Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, first made it in 1789 in Bourbon County. Distillers continue making Bourbon in the county, but it is a now a dry one. It’s not always easy to understand Kentucky alcohol laws. But it’s easy to learn about bourbon.

I. Minimum Ages

I.   Minimum Ages
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Advice

Young people often want to get part-time jobs in hospitality. They want to know the ages needed for those jobs. What is the minimum age for working as a bartender? For working as a server in a restaurant that sells alcohol? For working in a store that sells alcohol for drinking elsewhere?

Kentucky permits adults 20 or older to be serve and bartend in venues selling alcohol for drinking on-premises. Adults age 18 or older may sell beer in locations for off-premises consumption. Another adult at least 20 years old must supervise them. But sellers must be at least 20 years old to sell wine or spirits for drinking off-premises.

kentucky alcohol lawsThis distinction between beer on the one hand and wine and spirits on the other results from an old myth. That is, that wine and spirits are more alcoholic than beer. But standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. Each has 0.6 ounce of pure alcohol. They’re all the same when it comes to alcohol.

Kentucky alcohol laws let those of any age under 21 drink alcohol. A parent or guardian must give it to them. There are no restrictions on where they may drink it.

It is illegal for those under age 21 to buy alcohol. The use of a false ID to do so is a criminal act. The penalty may be driver’s license suspension.

It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with a BAC over 0.02.

II. Violations

Alcohol Sales

It is illegal to sell an alcoholic beverage to anyone under the age of 21. This includes adults of age 18, 19, and 20.

An alcohol-licensed business may sell alcohol Monday through Saturday from 6:00 a.m. until midnight. However, counties, cities, precincts may permit sales after midnight and on Sunday.

Kentucky has 120 counties. Of these, 39 are dry, 32 are wet, and 49 are moist. A moist county is dry but alcohol is legal in a city, country club, winery, etc. within the county. Discover more about Dry Counties.

The Kentucky Department of Alcohol Beverage maintain a list of counties as wet, dry, or moist. But the state’s local option laws permit counties, cities, and even voting precincts to vote wet, dry, or moist. Because there are so many precincts with such constantly changing laws, the Department doesn’t have a listing.

Dry Counties

Kentucky dry counties are Adair, Allen, Ballard, Bath, Breathitt, Butler, Carlisle, Casey, Clinton, Crittenden, Cumberland, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, and Hancock. Also Hart, Hickman, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Larue, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Lincoln, McCreary, McLean, Martin, Menifee, and Metcalfe. Finally Monroe, Morgan, Ohio, Owsley, Powell, Robertson, Rockcastle, Russell, and Webster. Note that the mere possession of alcohol is illegal in a dry county. Having alcohol in the trunk while traveling across the country can be prosecuted in a dry county.

Kentucky alcohol laws reflect the temperance movement. Here’s an example. If a dry city votes to become wet, a precinct in the city can vote to become dry again. But if a wet city votes to become dry, a precinct there cannot vote to become wet again. Clearly, the neo-prohibition movement is very strong in the state.

Alcohol Purchases

kentucky alcohol lawsIt’s a violation for anyone under age 21 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol. Non-adults (those under age 18) found guilty are penalized as juvenile offenders. Adults (those 18 or older) who are convicted are fined up to $250 and imprisoned up to 90 days. Later convictions lead to fines up to $500 and imprisonment for up to one year.

It’s illegal to drink in public. That includes on any bus or train. Also it’s illegal to have any opened alcohol containers in a vehicle.


Kentucky alcohol laws prohibit driving under the influence (DUI) of intoxicants. That can be alcohol or any other substance that impairs driving ability. For alcohol, DUI is a BAC of 0.08%. For drivers under 21, including adults, DUI is a BAC of 0.02% or higher.

The state can convict drivers below those maximum levels if other evidence shows impairment. Because of their high alcohol tolerance, many alcoholics are not under the influence above those levels. However, they may not present evidence that they were, in fact, not under the influence.

DUI Penalties

kentucky alcohol lawsThe specific penalties for DUI depend on the circumstances and the judge involved. However, the state has penalty ranges. Here are both the ranges and the mandates.

For a first conviction within ten years the fine is $200 to $500. The imprisonment is for two to 3o days. Offenders must spend 90 days in an alcohol or substance abuse program. Their driving license is suspended for 30 to 120 days. In addition, they may have to work 48 hours to 30 days in community service.

A second conviction within ten years has higher penalties. The fine is $350 to $500 and the imprisonment is seven days to six months. License suspension is for 12 to 18 months. There is one year in alcohol or substance abuse treatment. And there is mandated community service from ten days to six months.

If a person is convicted a third time in ten years, the penalty increases. The fine is $500 to $1,000 and the imprisonment is 30 days to 12 months. License suspension is 24 to 36 months. Alcohol or substance treatment is again one year. Community service is mandatory for ten days to 12 months.

A fourth conviction in ten years carries a prison term of at least 120 days with no probation. The license is suspended for 60 months


kentucky alcohol lawsKentucky alcohol laws prohibit anyone from operating a water vessel while intoxicated. That includes riding water skis, driving water jets, or similar vessels. The crime is boating while intoxicated (BWI). Intoxication exists if the operator has a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Or if the operator is under the influence of any substance that impairs driving ability

In addition, it’s illegal to drink in public. That includes the state’s waterways. Therefore, officers can arrest anyone, including passengers, seen drinking. But it’s legal to drink in a houseboat or other vessel if the drinker is not in plain sight.

III. Resources on Kentucky Alcohol Laws

State Code

Kentucky alcohol laws


Legislative Information

Supreme Court Opinions

Attorney General Opinions

Alcoholic Beverage Control  

Kentucky Bar Association

IV. Seek Good Advice

Kentucky alcohol laws can be complex. They are in other states, too. Laws change. So does their interpretation. Do not rely on this site. Or on any other site.

illinois alcohol lawsFor information or advice about alcohol laws in Kentucky, call a lawyer. One who holds a license in the state. It’s obvious that Kentucky alcohol laws are a confusing patchwork. Therefore, it’s wise to select an attorney who practices in the specific locale of concern.

Yet the very best advice is not to drink and drive.