Stronger beer may soon be coming to Utah grocery stores.
The Utah State Legislature is considering a bill that would allow stores to sell beer with 4.8 percent alcohol by weight, an increase from the current 3.2 percent limit. Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, has been introduced to raise the cap on alcohol content of beer available in retail stores and better reflect nationwide industry standards.
“This widens what we can make as craft brewers,” says Tim Dwyer of Salt Lake City-based Fisher Brewing Co. “It increases what is available to consumers.”
Current law mandates the sale of beer higher than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight to be sold at state-run liquor stores. If passed, Stevenson’s proposal would increase that figure to 4.8 percent for sale in grocery stores and gas stations, as well as for consumption at commercial venues.
The effects of the legislation could potentially have a widespread socioeconomic impact on Utah residents.
The Responsible Beer Choice Coalition estimates that low-alcohol beers brewed in the United States comprise just .06 percent of the market, causing hesitation for larger companies to invest in brewing lighter beer and risk financial profit from a diminished market. By raising the weight to 4.8 percent, or 6 percent alcohol by volume, beer available for retail sale would be in line with the bulk of commercially produced brews.
The proposition, however, could deprive the state of about $4.3 million in yearly tax revenue, as people find their choice brews for sale outside state-run liquor stores. The legislation could also impact smaller, local craft breweries.
Kaelin Pearce, manager at RoHa Brewing Project and former SLCC film student, says the proposal “would not affect much change.”
Pearce added the motion would largely impact and benefit the corporations “running the old beer game, making [crap] beer” by inundating the market with commercial brews.
Given a platform with widespread availability, it could also spell doom for local breweries who have perfected the craft of making a 3.2 percent beer. Pearce says the roots and connections local breweries have established within the community spur positive change through philanthropic projects, initiatives large corporations often lack.
The Utah Brewers Guild, however, says the proposed alcohol content increase doesn’t go far enough to benefit its members.
“Where we’re moving the ABV is exactly where the big brewers will excel, and it doesn’t add any of our products,” the guild’s Peter Erickson told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The separation of church and state still remains a barrier.
Convincing lawmakers, a majority of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, may prove challenging in efforts to pass the legislation.
“The Church opposes Senate bill 132 in its current form. We, along with other community groups, oppose legislation which represents a fifty percent increase in alcohol content for beer sold in grocery and convenience stores,” Marty Stephens, the LDS Church’s Director of Government Relations, said in a statement to FOX 13.
Latter-day Saints abstain from alcohol as a part of their faith’s health code.