The short answer is no…especially if you’re a craft beer fan.
On November 1, a new law took effect in Utah that’s being heralded as a breakthrough in the state. And we have to ask if upping the alcohol limit of beer that can be sold in grocery and convenience stores to 5% is that big a deal?
First, a little background…
Any analysis of Utah’s alcohol restrictions comes with a necessary caveat. Utah is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. And Mormons, who abstain from alcohol, dominate Utah’s population and play a significant role in its business, its economy, and (dare we say it?), it’s politics.
Which helps explain the state’s longtime commitment to a beer law which dates back to the Prohibition that only allowed 3.2 beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores.
Beer with higher-alcohol levels must still be sold in state-run liquor stores. And the new law, could only be considered a world-changing breakthrough in Utah.
Utah’s alcohol-limit increase came after several states, among the nation’s last few holdouts, moved away from 3.2 beer. Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma recently raised their limits, leaving Minnesota as the final state with a 3.2% cap.
But the definition of 3.2 beer is also generally misunderstood…
3.2 beer actually refers to “alcohol by weight” rather than the more commonly used alcohol by volume, (ABV) designation which is the industry standard when referencing a beer’s strength.
The reality is that 3.2% beer is a 4% ABV brew when referenced by volume but still, it’s an increasingly rare commodity that big brewers would rather not bother producing. And although Utah consumed 29% of all the 3.2 beer in the nation, that still represents less than a half a percent of all beer drinkers in America.
Under Utah’s new law beers sold at grocery and convenience stores are now capped at 5% alcohol by volume.
That’s hardly a world-changing breakthrough…It’s the historical strength of a Budweiser.
Beers stronger than 5% ABV (and most craft beers are) will still only be allowed to be sold in Utah’s state-run liquor stores.
So while Utah’s new regulation will allow beers like Stella Artois and Pacifico to be sold in grocery stores, you’re still going to have to go to a liquor store to purchase a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and that’s one of that brewery’s more sessionable offerings…
Bottom line Utah’s new beer law is a mini-step forward, which benefits global brewers like Anheuser-Busch while continuing to limit easy access to much of what craft breweries produce.
And it’s more of a bone thrown to Big Beer and their lobbyists, than it is any kind of a monumental breakthrough.
So celebrate if you want…but we’re not all that impressed.