Some national beer companies are considering dropping weaker brews, which means Utah beer drinkers could see fewer options at the grocery store.
State law mandates that beer sold in grocery stores and gas stations can’t be any stronger than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (ABW). Most states have moved away from that requirement, which means that by 2019, the weak beer seen in Utah stores will make up only about .5 percent of the entire U.S. beer market.
“The question becomes then, ‘will the brewers continue to produce 3.2 beer when the market is getting so much smaller?’” said Sal Petilos, director of Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, back in June, when the Legislature was exploring this issue.
Now, it looks like Petilos’ question is getting an answer. Earlier this month, beer giant Anheuser-Busch sent a letter to Utah’s beer distributors, telling them that it could reduce selection by 40 percent.
“As you go down that beer aisle, there’s a lot of different products, a lot of variety, a lot of different flavors,” said Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association. “And those are going to be dramatically reduced.”
Low-point beer accounts for 94 percent of total beer sales in Utah.
The letter did not say what brands or flavors could be affected, and it didn’t provide a timeline either. But as other states loosen restrictions on beer, demand for low-point brews will drop dramatically by this time next year.
Olsen said he’s heard of similar plans from MillerCoors, America’s second-largest brewer.
He’s been discussing the issue with Utah State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, who normally handles alcohol legislation.
“We’ve been visiting with him on a regular basis and talking with him,” said Olsen. “We hope he’ll address it.”
Stevenson has opened a bill request for the 2018 legislative session titled “Alcohol Amendments” but the text has not been made public.