Say Goodbye to 3.2% Beer Law in Utah

Utah is poised to ditch its 3.2% beer law. A watered-down version of a bill brought before the Utah state legislature passed Thursday on the final day of the 2019 session.

It would allow for Utah’s grocery and convenience stores to sell beer containing up to 4% alcohol by weight (ABW). That’s 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), a more common measure in the beer world.

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The alcohol cap would also increase for draft beer sold in restaurants and bars, and presumably at brewery taprooms with sufficient licensing, according to the legislation.

The bill awaits Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature and would go into effect later this year. He previously voiced support for an increase, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The measure is a less-potent version of a bill introduced by Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. That one, which passed the Senate on Feb. 25 but faced resistance in the House, would have bumped the limit to 4.8% ABW (6% ABV). It faced opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as from the Utah Brewers Guild as a whole.

Individual Utah brewers, however, were split on the issue. Representatives from Fisher Brewing spoke in favor of the bill on at least two separate occasions. And 2 Row Brewing told Utah Beer News that it favored the original proposed legislation.

The Utah Brewers Guild opted to remain neutral on the compromise bill, “because some brewers are for it and some brewers do not support it,” it tweeted. “All of these voices are valid. We don’t always agree with each other on everything, but the Utah craft beer community is a family.”

A Slight Increase

Even with the increase, Utah would still have some of the strictest alcohol limits on beer available to purchase outside of state-run liquor stores.

A graphic in The Salt Lake Tribune showed the 18 states that currently cap alcohol content on grocery store beer. Minnesota, at 4%, remains the lowest, though much of its beer is sold in private liquor stores. Utah would be next at 5%, followed by Kansas at 6%.

Currently in Utah, and for the past 85 years, only 3.2% beer (4% ABV) is allowed to be sold in retail locations. State-run liquor stores sell higher-alcohol — so-called “heavy beer” — products. That will change if and when Gov. Herbert signs the bill into law, as expected.

The proposed legislation proved to be divisive within the craft beer community. Some beer drinkers suggested even a minimal increase would be beneficial.

Others, meantime, believed the increase to be an arbitrary number that would help macro-brewers more than local brewers.

The Guild, which represents 29 of the state’s craft brewers, told The Salt Lake Tribune in January that a small bump would give national brewers an advantage over local brewers. At the time, the Guild pushed for no limits. If that weren’t an option, it favored maintaining the status quo.

An impetus for the initial bill came when big beer manufacturers said they were going to stop shipping specially-brewed 3.2% beer to Utah.