Five point oh – coming to grocery shelves near you

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Beer (freepik)

You’ve probably been watching the ongoing shenanigans regarding the recent legislative session and how law makers are handling the nationwide wind down of 3.2 beer. Well this week it finally seems that headway has been made, with allowances for slightly stronger beer to hit grocery store shelves near you soon.

The original SB132 bill sought to update Utah’s limit on alcohol in retail settings from 3.2 -> 4.8 ABW. Despite initial promise, the proposal was sadly watered down (pun intended) and the revised bill now looks set to pass at 4.0 ABW. This ends current retail alcohol laws first set in 1933. The current proposal is expected to be signed off by the guv in short order.

Without the change, and with states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado all ostensibly ending 3.2 beer sales, Utah was effectively left standing alone, with major brewers expected to start cutting production of 3.2 brews, vastly reducing availability on Utah shelves. Case in point, tried to get a Bud Light six pack recently (hey there in the back, stop the heckling) – you’ve probably been forced into trading up to a 8 or 12 pack.

Actually before I continue, can we stop talking about 3.2 beer – or 4.0 beer as it’s expected to be updated to. If I had one extra wish about the upcoming law change, it’d be that we stop using the wildly anachronistic ABW term (alcohol by weight), phraseology that’s confusing and complex.

For the most part brewers and distillers in the modern world use the much simpler ABV term – alcohol by volume – which is eminently understandable. If your can says 5% ABV, well, 5% of the content of that container will be alcohol. Pretty simple stuff. As opposed to ABW where you start to get tangled up in specific gravities. And should the expected legislation pass, 5% ABV is what we will start to see around town.

I’d love for Utah to jump aboard the ABV train with me (and the rest of the world). It’s a fun ride guys. For a state that’s hand-wringingly obsessed with the outside worlds opinion of it’s liquor laws and how they appear wacky to outsiders, Utahns sure do love to keep propagating the distraction that is using ABW over ABV.

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O.k, lets move on. What really has me intrigued, is what the changes will mean for aisles up and down grocery and convenience stores. As noted on this Reddit thread, various products from the mega brewers will now be available here, as there are on other states. For example, some huge brands and their respective default ABV:

Budweiser 5.0% ABV
Corona Extra 4.6% ABV
Miller Lite 4.2% ABV
Miller High Life 4.6% ABV
Stella Artois 5% ABV
Heineken 5% ABV
Modelo 4.4 ABV

Of course there are still outliers, Blue Moon clocks in at 5.4% ABV so that will likely become a liquor store only item. Beyond the huge mega brewers though, I’m fascinated by how other products might now become available. What about other regional and national craft brews, what about the response from local brewers? Heck, what about completely new product lines?

For example, I’m partial to the odd imported Strongbow or Magners Cider (5% and 4.5% ABV respectively). Presumably now that such products fall within the new limits, they’ll stop being carried at liquor stores, and start appearing with more wider availability?

The planned change will also affect restaurant and bar taps too – meaning you’ll be able to order up drat beers of 5% ABV in your local watering hole too, come the bills expected introduction on November 1st 2019.

Who knows what the months ahead hold, beyond a lot more column inches and angst. I’m sure many stores and brewers locally are still scratching their head and figuring out what’s next for themselves. I’d suspect more than one savvy local operator will take quick advantage of the new law and brew something updated or new to hit shelves ASAP. Case in point, this brief comment from Clay Turnbow of Kiitos Brewing who quipped to the Trib, “This shakes everything up.”

As a final aside, the coming changes will serve as an eye opening look into the microcosm of what private liquor sales in Utah might look like one day. If the DABC starts to clear all 5% ABV and below products from its shelves, and retailers don’t pick up that slack – what does that say about bigger ABV moves down the line? For what it’s worth, I’ve never been a huge hater of the state ran model, I think complete deregulation can lead to worse/less supply left to the lowest common denominators of price, shelf space and demand; but hey that’s an argument for another day, or in person!

I’ll update this story as and when we start to hear more about how this changes product on the ground!

Credit: headline image designed by Freepik

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a lager guy. I look forward to tasting the “standard” versions of some of my favorite breweries beers including anything from Bohemia and Desert Edge. Even though it’s a smaller increase in ABV than we wanted, it still will encourage me to have a pint at the local brewery. I agree, it will be interesting.

  2. Glad to see someone else being upbeat Steve, rather than all the doom and gloom merchants!

    I’m definitely a guy whose glass is half full; I can get pretty much whatever I want from the liquor stores, no big deal, there are plenty around. And if I *really* want something strong at a bar, it comes in a bottle, not draft. In the case of local brewers that might mean its even fresher frankly, as many places might not keep their lines for draft beer all that clear anyway.

    So any step forward, no matter how small, I’ll raise my glass 🙂

  3. So is it likely that ciders like Angry Orchard and the ones you mentioned above will be available in grocery stores? I thought they were treated like wines rather than beer – what with the weird laws about serving them in a carafe or in a glass?

  4. I’ll be getting to the bottom of it soon, with the help of a liquor law expert! That said, off the top of my head my belief is that anything 5% ABV and under is fair game; I could be wrong of course, but I don’t think they delineate by type of product, just alcohol content.

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