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.
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
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.