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Some hard seltzers will start disappearing from Utah store shelves next week

The DABC wants public input on bar licenses
Posted at 4:20 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 23:54:49-04

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah  — When newly passed liquor laws go into effect next week, some popular hard seltzer flavors may start disappearing from grocery and convenience store shelves.

At its monthly meeting, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission was briefed on upcoming plans for hard seltzers. The agency will not require product to immediately be pulled from store shelves and sent to state-run liquor stores.

"There are going to be some stores that are selling products that aren’t legal after June 1 based on this new definition of beer. So rather than just yank it off the shelves we wanted to give that buffer zone so that they can sell through their products," said agency spokesperson Michelle Schmitt.

The DABC is asking retailers not to order any new products that are no longer compliant, but giving them until this fall to phase out what they have.

The issue is something FOX 13 News first reported on last year. Utah has a "unique" definition of beer and hard seltzers don't exactly meet it. The legislature this year tweaked the definition to allow for their sale in grocery and convenience stores — but only some of them. It comes down to how they're brewed and whether the flavorings (some, for example, have ethyl alcohol) included exceed the legal threshold of 5% alcohol-by-volume.

Hard seltzer manufacturers are providing ingredient lists to the DABC so they can determine what flavors need to be sold in a state-run liquor store and what can stay on grocery and convenience store shelves.

"I think there is quite a few products that will remain," Schmitt told FOX 13 News.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, the DABC commission awarded a single bar license to Wasatch Loft & Tap Room Bar in Park City. There were 16 total applicants for the lone license. The situation has been a constant source of frustration for commissioners, who have started to urge people to call their elected legislators.

"We have businesses that are making a tremendous investment in opening a bar in this state. That means they go out, they enter into a long-term lease with a landlord, they also buy considerable furniture, fixtures and other equipment which, as one person relayed to us, is a half million dollars," said DABC Commission Chair Thomas Jacobson. "And then they come in here at the last moment and want a bar license and we’ve got 15 people and one license."

Because of the demand for a bar license, the state cannot award it based on an "idea" for a bar, but one that is close to opening. Governor Spencer Cox has favored increasing the number of bar licenses but the legislature refused to tweak the quota, which is one per 10,200 residents. But lawmakers did move around some hotel licenses. As a result, the DABC in June will have nine-and-a-half bar licenses to give out (the half a license is a seasonal one).

The DABC commission chair said he wants to hear from the public about how they should award those licenses from a policy perspective.

"Give licenses only to people who are ready? Do they want us to consider people who are working on it? Do they want us to give out licenses to special areas of the state that are under-served? Are they looking for anything else as to where we should be allocating those licenses?" he said.

Comments can be submitted to hotline@utah.gov before the next DABC commission meeting.

As of Tuesday, the DABC commission approved its final list of bar licenses that can be sold to the highest bidder. Eight bars sold their licenses for prices ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. The legislature legalized that option several years ago, but reversed course on it this year.