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Stronger Beer Will Be Found In Utah Grocery Stores As State Legislature Passes Beer Amendment

haunted by Leonard Cohen
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The compromise bill will increase the percentage of alcohol in beer available at retail outlets to 4.0% and create a task force to study declining light beer availability.

Utah beer lovers will soon be able to get beer with as much as 4.0 percent alcohol by weight in the grocery store with the passage of an amended Utah bill -- Senate Bill 132. The bill was one of the last passed during the 2019 legislative session. 

And it has a contentious history. The bill was intended to address the declining availability of 3.2 percent beer in the United States as more states change their liquor laws to permit the sale of heavier beers in grocery stores. As originally written, it would have allowed beer with as much as 4.8 percent alcohol by weight on to convenience store shelves.

However, once the bill was introduced to a House committee, it failed and was altered to create a task force to study the issue of declining light beer availability. The bill has again been altered, keeping the task force while amending the provisions on beer/alcohol percentages.

“The bill was defeated in a committee in the House. And so, they revived it and they’ve amended the bill to provide that the current level of 3.2 in the bill can go up to 4.0, not 4.8, as sought in the original bill,” said Senator Lyle Hillyard, (R-District 25).  “Senator Stevenson said that 88 percent of the current beer now available in grocery stores will remain available. The last 12 percent, people who want the heavier beer, will simply go to the liquor store and buy it there as they would wine or any other alcohol.”

Although Hillyard is in support of a task force to study declining light beer availability, he voted against SB 132, citing implications of the new law for Utah tax revenues.

“When alcohol or even heavy beer is bought in a liquor store, a certain amount of the proceeds goes to our school hot lunch program.  By changing this and moving the beer that’s now above 3.2 up to 4.0 out of the liquor store and putting them in a grocery store the hot lunch program in the state of Utah will lose $700,000. That represents quite a few lunches for kids,” Hillyard said.

The bill passed the house on March 13 and the Senate on March 14.