Utah Moves to Halt Sales of Malt Beverages at Stores

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's liquor regulators are moving to pull flavored malt beverages from grocery and convenience store shelves.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission voted 5-0 on Friday to direct staff members to prepare a regulation that allows only state liquor stores to stock the alcoholic drinks.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had urged Utah legislators to crack down, but liquor commissioners said they can do it on their own.

"The rule is within our authority to make," Commissioner Bobbie Coray said. "We don't need to run to the Legislature for every little thing."

Commissioner Kathryn Balmforth called the Legislature "a meat grinder" easily influenced by the liquor industry, and said there was no guarantee lawmakers would act.

Shurtleff says the drinks are flavored and packaged to appeal to minors, who can't buy them. Yet Shurtleff insisted minors were the main consumers of malt drinks, which have the same amount of alcohol as store-bought beer in Utah.

"I'm grateful that the DABC recognizes the concern of youth access to 'alcopops,"' Shurtleff said in a statement. "These drinks are not beer and should not be sold like beer."

The liquor commission is moving to classify the beverages as hard liquor that can be sold only at the 38 state liquor stores and 100 rural package agencies across Utah.

Allen Whittle, vice president of the Utah Hospitality Association, said the crackdown will worsen Utah's image as a place where it can be hard to find a drink. Wine and hard liquor can be served only at some restaurants and at members-only private clubs.

Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said the new regulation was unnecessary.

"Obviously, we want to keep it the way it is," Olsen said. "We don't think the consumers are all that confused."

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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