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Heavy beer might be on its way to Utah grocery, convenience stores

By Dennis Romboy, KSL | Posted - Feb. 1, 2019 at 8:39 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah could be moving toward allowing the sale of higher alcohol content beer — now available only in state-run liquor outlets — in grocery and convenience stores.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said Friday he will introduce legislation to raise the alcohol content by weight from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent for beer in stores.

"This has been up the air for two years," he said.

National breweries are phasing out the production of 3.2 percent beer as the markets for it dry up. Utah and is one of only two states left selling the lower weight beer after laws in Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas have or will change in the next few months.

The proposed law would still leave Utah with the lowest alcohol content for beer, Stevenson said.

Stevenson, the Senate's point man on alcohol legislation, said he's not sure how the bill will play with his legislative colleagues.

"I’ve lived all the way from being a hero to having my head handed to me in my hand. This is probably one of either," he said.

Last month, Walmart launched a campaign urging customers to lobby Utah lawmakers to make full-strength beer available in stores.

The retail giant is part of a group of retailers, beer manufacturers and distributors, and trade associations calling itself the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition that is lobbying the Legislature to raise the alcohol content for beer sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Only 1.8 percent of all beer brewed in the United States is 3.2 beer, with Oklahoma consuming nearly 60 percent of it, followed by Utah at 29 percent. Utahns represent less than one-half of a percent of beer drinkers in the U.S.

As state laws change, national brewers have to decide whether to continue what would be a specialty item for a shrinking market. Some products from major beer brewers, including Coors and Budweiser, are already disappearing from Utah shelves.

Retail outlets sell nearly 32.5 million gallons, or 94.2 percent, of all beer sold in the state, compared with 2 million, 5.8 percent, of heavy beer sold at state-run liquor stores.

Dennis Romboy

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