Key to Compliance


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Licensees become familiar with many of Iowa’s liquor laws through the day-to-day operation of their business.

Well-known liquor laws include Iowa’s legal drinking age, hours of sale and the prohibited sale of alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person. Other liquor laws may be unfamiliar to some licensees. These lesser-known laws can simply be misunderstood and sometimes licensees can be in violation without knowing it. While the following is not a comprehensive list of uncommon Iowa liquor laws, it is an easy to understand overview of laws that licensees should become acquainted and compliant with.

Keeping Tabs

Tabs and credit vouchers are illegal. Licensees may extend credit only through the use of bona fide credit cards (American Express©, Discover©, MasterCard©, Visa©, etc.). Patrons may run a tab while they are drinking in the establishment, but licensees must ensure the tab is fully paid before the patron leaves the establishment.
Exception: This law does not apply to sales by private clubs (class “A” liquor licensees) to bona fide members, or by hotels and motels (class “B” liquor licensees) to registered guests.

Vaporizing Alcohol

Equipment used to vaporize an alcoholic beverage is illegal. Licensees are prohibited from selling, possessing or supplying equipment which is used to vaporize an alcoholic beverage for consumption in vaporized form.


Advertising brand names of liquor, wine or beer on the outside of the licensed premises is illegal. Licensees may not place signs or other matter containing brand names of liquor, wine or beer in the parking lot, on the outside of the building, on a sidewalk, etc.
Exception: Outside signs with specific brand names of liquor, wine or beer are legal when located in an enclosed or partially enclosed area (example: patio umbrellas with specific name brands in a fenced outdoor beer garden). Signs in an outdoor service area must face inward.

Refilling Bottles

Refilling or “marrying” liquor and wine bottles is illegal. Licensees may not refill a smaller “well” bottle from a larger bottle or fill a liquor or wine bottle with less expensive product. Liquor or wine may not be watered down either. Simply put, the contents of a liquor or wine bottle may not change.

On-Premises Employees

Employing a person under 18 years old to sell or serve liquor, beer or wine for on-premises consumption is illegal. On-premises licensees must ensure that employees who sell and serve alcohol are at least 18 years old.

Drink Promotions

Offering drink promotions based on gender is illegal. A 1989 Iowa Supreme Court decision outlawed gender-based promotions like “Ladies Night” and “Men’s Night” where free or discounted alcoholic drinks or admission are offered by licensees.

Licensees who are found to be non-complaint with the above violations may face sanctions including an administrative fine, license suspension and/or license revocation in addition to criminal sanctions. The key to licensee compliance is becoming knowledgeable with Iowa liquor laws and rules. Iowa’s liquor laws and rules can be found in Iowa Code section 123 and 185 Iowa Administrative Code, respectively.

Last year, the Division published the manual “Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Laws & You,” which is an easy to understand guide to Iowa’s liquor laws. This publication can be ordered or downloaded at Licensees can also easily access the laws and rules on the Division’s website. If you have specific compliance questions contact the Division by calling 515.281.7414