CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When ordering your next drink at a restaurant or bar, you might want to think about the taxes you're paying.
A recent study ranks West Virginia as the 10th best state for alcohol taxes. The Mountain State also ranks higher than any of its neighboring states.
"Just knowing that changing the kind of drinks you are having. You can pay fewer taxes," said Alex McAdams, the author of the study released last month on the NerdWallet website.
The study looked at beer, wine and spirits in all 50 states, and compared those numbers with the total consumption of each beverage type in each state. Combining the two, the study generated a composite score for each state to rank them.
In West Virginia, the tax rate on beer is about half that of either wine or spirits, McAdams said. Beer is taxed at 1.7 cents per "standard drink," while wine is taxed at 3.9 cents per drink and spirits at 3.3 cents per drink. A standard drink is generally considered 12 ounces of beer that is 5 percent alcohol, 5 ounces of wine that is 12 percent alcohol, and 1.5 ounces of liquor at about 40 percent alcohol.
Ohio and West Virginia share the same beer tax rate, but Pennsylvania enjoys the lowest regional beer tax rate at 0.8 cents per drink. Virginia's rate is 2.4 cents per drink, Maryland's is 4.2 cents per drink, and Kentucky's is 7.1 cents per drink.
Ohio enjoys the lowest tax rate regionally for wine at 1.3 cents, compared to West Virginia's 3.9 cents per drink. Maryland is 5.4 cents, Virginia is 5.9 cents and Kentucky is 12.3 cents. All Pennsylvania wine sales are controlled by the state and have no direct tax rate, according to the study.
When it comes to hard liquor, West Virginia's spirits tax rate of 3.3 cents per drink is the lowest in the region, according to the study. Per-drink rates in surrounding states are Maryland, 5.2 cents; Kentucky, 8 cents; Pennsylvania, 8.5 cents; Ohio, 11.5 cents; and Virginia, 24.1 cents.
The study did not find a clear correlation between tax rates and traditional political leanings, McAdams said. Nor did researchers find that taxes were categorically more extensive in one region of the country than another, he said.
"I think if you look more carefully state-by-state, the alcohol tax rates do reveal a lot about the individual state's attitudes and policies toward alcohol more generally," McAdams said.
For example, he said, Washington state ranks last for the best alcohol taxes -- but if you look at the beverage industries that operate on a wide scale there, there's more to see.
Washington has a lot of wineries and microbrewers, so those tax rates are fairly average: beer at 7.1 cents per drink, wine at 3.4 cents per drink.
Spirits, on the other hand, are taxed at 41.3 cents per drink in Washington.
"As you might imagine, the state has a vested interest in protecting those particular [beer and wine] industries," McAdams said. "So they will often have lower taxes."
Conversely, Missouri was ranked as the second best state for alcohol taxes, and McAdams said the state has a long history of leniency toward alcohol. The state does not have a statewide ban on open containers, and Missouri was one of the few states never to enact state prohibition laws.