The Utah State Legislature is taking a sober look at the end of 3.2 beer

Posted at 5:15 PM, Jun 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-22 11:23:34-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Legislature is beginning to imagine a world without 3.2 beer.

At a meeting Wednesday of the legislature's Business & Labor Interim Committee, they took up the subject as more states have abandoned laws prohibiting stronger beers from being sold in their states.

"One of the questions that the legislature will face is whether or not to change the definition of beer," Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Executive Director Sal Petilos told the committee.

As FOX 13 has been reporting extensively, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado are all doing away with 3.2 beer in the coming years, allowing stronger brews to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Those states are the largest consumers of 3.2 beer in the nation.

3.2 beer for sale in a Salt Lake City grocery store. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Now, lawmakers must take a sober look at what happens if there's a "beer-pocalypse." If major beer makers like Anheuser-Busch stop making it for larger states that consume 3.2 beer, what happens to Utah?

"Let’s just say they’re going to quit producing anything 3.2," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, asked.

"If the decision is absolute, that entire market goes to the DABC," Petilos replied, adding the DABC cannot handle it.

Utahns consume about 33 million gallons of 3.2 beer each year. Beyond the loss of product for consumers, there would be a big tax impact.

"I know there are a number of businesses out in my district who will say that 40% of their revenue, 40% of their profit will come from the sale of beer," said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.

Beer on sale in a grocery store in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

A solution would be to move heavy beers into grocery and convenience stores (freeing up shelf space in state liquor stores). Dave Davis, a lobbyist for the Utah Retail Merchants Association, suggested lawmakers wouldn't even have to surrender control over the strength of alcohol in the beer sold.

"By making a small change from 3.2 to 4.8 you’re going to capture most of the market and consumers would not see some of these negative effects," he said.

Anything lawmakers do would not be considered until January when the Utah State Legislature meets.