Park City craft breweries drink to Oklahoma
After Sooner State’s vote to allow full-strength beer, local brewers see opportunity
Breweries in Park City are raising their glasses to the Sooner State.
Local breweries are speculating that some of their major competitors may no longer see a financial incentive to produce low-strength beer as a result of Oklahoma residents voting last month to allow full-strength brews in grocery and convenience stores.
Oklahoma’s vote will leave Utah, Kansas and Minnesota as the only states that ban stores from selling beer with an alcohol content greater than 3.2 percent by weight or 4 percent by volume. The market for low-strength beer has shrunk drastically recently, as Colorado legislators also recently changed the law to allow high-point beer.
The new law in Oklahoma is slated to go into effect in 2018, while Colorado’s is set to kick in the following year.
Terry Wood, a spokesman with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the largest brewer in the world, Anheuser-Busch — which makes Budweiser and Stella Artois, among others — has indicated since the Oklahoma vote that it intends to continue brewing low-strength beer. But Greg Schirf, who founded Wasatch Brewery 30 years ago in Park City, said it’s likely that other large brewers will eventually pull their products from grocery and convenience stores in Utah.
That would be a good thing for Utah’s thriving craft beer scene, Schirf said. It would provide Utah breweries with more real estate on the highly coveted shelves of grocery stores, and customers would see a more diverse selection of craft beers.
And if large brewers elect to instead sell full-strength beers in the state’s liquor stores, customers would likely end up paying a higher price for them, Schirf said. They may, in turn, grab a cheaper six pack of craft beers from the grocery stores.
“For Wasatch and the other craft brewers in Utah, this would really be a plus,” said Schirf, who noted Utah breweries aren’t facing the quandary of their large competitors because they brew their products specifically to align with the state’s 3.2-percent-by-weight requirement.
“We’d love to see it happen,” he added. “I don’t want to (anger) those Coors Light drinkers — although I guess I can’t lose a customer I don’t have — but we’d love to see this. We don’t have any problems with it if that’s what happens.”
Hud Knight, a co-owner of Park City Brewery, also said it’s likely some large brewers may stop producing low-strength beer in the coming years. He, too, sees that as an opportunity for Utah’s craft beer industry.
Knight also noted, however, that the state’s legislators could respond to brewers pulling out of grocery stores by loosening the laws to allow full-strength beer in Utah’s grocery stores, too. That might spur more craft breweries from the region to sell beer in the state, thus increasing the competition for Utah’s breweries.
But it would also allow local brewers to showcase their high-point beers in more places — maybe even privately owned liquor stores.
“I can see both sides of it,” said Knight. “There would be some good aspects and some bad aspects.”
Schirf, on the other hand, is skeptical that legislators will ever lift the restriction on full-strength beer because of the profit state liquor stores generate. Wood said legislation would be considered if large brewers stop producing low-strength beer, but there is nothing currently in the works.
Regardless of what happens, both Knight and Schirf said they will continue brewing suds that titillate the taste buds of Utah’s beer enthusiasts.
“This wouldn’t change how we operate,” Schirf said. “It wouldn’t change anything.”
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