Utah brewers opposed to bill to raise alcohol limits upset at its failure
March 8, 2019
Utahns may have to get used to slim pickings in Utah grocery stores after a bill in the state Legislature aimed at raising the alcohol limit for beer failed.
On Wednesday, a House committee rejected S.B. 132, which aimed to raise the current limit for beer sold in grocery and convenience stores from 3.2 percent alcohol by weight to 4.8 percent. The bill's failure was met with frustration from consumers. Although the majority of Utah brewers opposed the bill's proposed limit — they said the 4.8 percent figure caters to domestic breweries — they were upset the discussion about increasing the alcohol content of beer was quickly shut down.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, failed in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The group endorsed a substitute bill that would form a task force to dig into the issue since several national breweries have indicated they plan to stop producing 3.2 percent beer.
Nicole Dicou, executive director of the trade organization Utah Brewer's Guild, said she did not consider the bill's rejection a success even though she and several Utah breweries lobbied against it. She said the breweries are in favor of raising the limit, but they did not think the bill raised the limit high enough. She hoped lawmakers would come to an agreement during the session to pass a bill with a higher limit.
Since the bill failed, she said the guild is regrouping and trying to voice its mission to the public.
"Obviously, we are on the same side as consumers that want a higher ABW," she said.
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The guild argued the 4.8 percent limit was an arbitrary number that benefited national brands at the expense of local brewers.
Utah breweries have sold 3.2 percent beers for the past several years, and brewers would not be able to quickly switch and compete with national producers that already sell full-strength beers in other states, Dicau previously said. The bill would have gone into effect in July.
Hud Knight, co-founder of Park City Brewery, previously said it would be challenging to perfect a new recipe and find packaging in time in order to go up against national brands for shelf space. He, and several other breweries in the state, is in favor of raising the limit to 8 or 9 percent alcohol by volume, which Dicau said is the national average.
Dicau hopes the issue is addressed in future legislative sessions.
Grocery and convenience store owners will now have to deal with the challenge of stocking their shelves with limited supply. A few national brands have announced in recent months that they plan to stop production of 3.2 percent beer because Utah is one of only two states that has a 3.2 limit still in place. Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma all raised their limits in the past year.
Mike Holm, owner of The Market in Park City, said he is concerned about what that means for his store because consumers will have fewer options for purchasing beer. But, he said, he is confident large national brands will come to a compromise to keep Utah shelves stocked.
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