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Minis may return to Utah and hard seltzers are likely to stay on store shelves in new bill

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 19:12:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature's omnibus liquor bill, set to be unveiled this week, would allow mini-bottles to be sold in the state under a pilot program.

Lawmakers and industry representatives are also close to a deal to keep popular hard seltzers like White Claw, Press, Vizzy and Bon & Viv from disappearing from grocery and convenience store shelves.

"If you have a favorite product, the odds are you will still continue to see the product in a grocery store, a convenience store near you," said Kate Bradshaw, the president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents major brewers across the country.

FOX 13 first reported last year the popular seltzers were in danger of being yanked off store shelves because they did not meet Utah's legal definition of "beer" in how they were brewed.

"We’re going to change the definition of how it’s manufactured. I don’t know that we’ll get 100% of what’s on the market, but we’ll get almost all of it," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said in an interview Monday with FOX 13.

Sen. Stevenson, who is tasked by the Republican majority in the Senate with shepherding liquor legislation through every year, said he is confident they can reach consensus. But he acknowledged some of the legal definition will still remain "unique."

Bradshaw told FOX 13 that does not mean that every brand stays on grocery and convenience store shelves. Some may return to state-controlled liquor stores.

"In Utah, we have a unique relationship with alcohol which means we often have unique definitions. We’ve solved the vast majority of issues, but there may still be a small subset of products that have to move into a liquor store format," she said.

What else is in the bill:

  • Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will change its name to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services.
  • Bar licenses will not be increased, Sen. Stevenson said, but they may be "re-worked" to free up some more. Utah has a quota of one license per 10,200 people.
  • Lawmakers are also looking at doing away with something they created years ago — allowing a liquor licensee to sell their bar license to the highest bidder.
  • Mini-bottles could be sold in state-run liquor stores under a pilot project.

"They have the ability to do that now so we’re going to instruct them, if they could, let’s do a test market and see how this works," Sen. Stevenson said of mini-bottles in Utah.

Some DABC stores would be allowed to sell them to determine if they are successful and if there are no issues related to them.

Meanwhile, the DABC is seeking millions in funding to expand its IT infrastructure. It would allow the agency to upgrade its retail software, including the ability to accept things like Apple Pay (the DABC currently uses credit card machines that are decades old). DABC Executive Director Tiffany Clason also sought $3 million to implement online ordering at state-run liquor stores.

"You go in, you have a will call line, you show that ID after the ID check has been made, you pick up your product and go about your business. It is quick, it is fast, it is safe," she told a legislative appropriations committee.

Lawmakers seemed willing to go along with it, especially after she said the agency projected $10 million in annual sales from online ordering alone.

"It is a market convenience I think is pretty much standard now with the pandemic and we’re excited to be able to offer this to our customers," Clason said.