This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Legislative action in Colorado and Oklahoma could drastically reduce the availability of 3.2 percent beer in Utah, a consumer nightmare that would put pressure on lawmakers to hike the alcohol content of beers in grocery stores.
Whether that would happen in a state where teetotaling is revered is questionable, and the leading legislator on alcohol issues in Utah said different options would be considered.
Utah is one of five states that allow only 3.2 beer to be sold in grocery stores, with heavier beer restricted to state-controlled liquor stores.
Colorado recently passed a law permitting stouter beer to be sold in grocery stores. Oklahoma is poised to do the same, although a constitutional amendment is required in the Sooner State and will appear on the ballot this November.
If Oklahoma voters approve the amendment and polls show that is likely the only 3.2-beer states left would be Utah, Kansas and Minnesota. The percentage of the lighter suds would drop from 1.8 percent of all the beer brewed in the United States to 0.7 percent, said Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association.
Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors dominate the industry in the U.S. Both have indicated that it's not worth brewing the lighter beer for such a small market.
"The 3.2 beer wouldn't disappear completely," Olsen said. "But you would see a big reduction in choices of package sizes and brands. Now, you might have 100 choices on the beer aisle. That could drop to a dozen."
Because plants have to be drained and cleaned to make beer with a different alcohol content, Olsen predicted breweries would produce the lighter beer less frequently, leading to less product.
Since that is the only beer that can be sold in Utah grocery stores, the potential shortage could stir up a consumer crisis.
Wholesalers and retailers have approached lawmakers about allowing more robust beer to be sold in the stores, but that might be hard for them to swallow.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, has been the lead legislator on alcohol issues and is aware of the potential problems. Like most of his colleagues, he worries about the safety implications of boosting the alcohol content of beers sold in grocery stores.
"You're talking about going from 3.2 percent to maybe 4.7 percent," he said. "So now, it might take you five cans of beer to get lit. If we increase [the alcohol content], it might take just three cans."
One option might to be expand the capacity of liquor stores to stock more of the heavier beer. But Stevenson acknowledged pressure to do something will emerge from beer wholesalers, retailers and grocers facing a deep drop in business.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also would be a key player in any alcohol legislation. The Utah-based faith has shown an aversion to any law that could increase alcohol consumption.
Several years ago, a bill sought to remove from grocery stores 3.2 percent flavored malt beverages, dubbed "alco-pops," because they were attractive to minors.
It looked like a close call in the Legislature until the LDS Church publicly came out in favor of the removal.
That sealed the deal.