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Brewing Giants Are Looking to Cut Utah’s Beer Supply

The state’s most popular (but weakest) brew is under threat

Anheuser-Busch InBev Eyes Potential Purchase Of Rival Miller
Budweiser, one of Anheuser-Busch’s beer brands
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Beer-drinking Utahans could end up with very few beer choices on their shelves as brewing giant Anheuser-Busch considers major cutbacks to the production of 3.2 percent beer — the only alcoholic beverage that can be sold in grocery stores in the state.

Utahans would still be able to get their hands stronger beer and other booze at state-owned liquor stores, but the cutback would still be a problem since the weak beer is a huge seller in the state. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the 3.2 percent brews make up “the vast majority of all beer sold in the state”: five times more 3.2 percent beer is sold than all other beverages combined. Yet it might not be profitable (or “feasible”) for the company behind Budweiser and Rolling Rock to keep making it.

In a letter to Utah’s beer wholesalers, Anheuser-Busch wrote that it was considering nearly halving the number of beer brands it sold in the state (from 20 to 12) and drastically reducing the number of beer types (from 113 to under 70). In comparison, Anheuser-Busch offers nearly 800 beer types in Maine, which has a similarly sized market for beer but much laxer liquor laws.

On top of that, Utah wholesalers are reportedly expecting similar cuts from the country’s other beer giant, MillerCoors (which owns Coors, Miller, Milwaukee’s Best, and many more).

Part of the reason for the cutback is that Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado recently loosened up laws around 3.2 percent beer, allowing stronger brews into grocery stores. When the laws take effect (as late as in 2019 in Kansas), the weak beer is expected to become less popular or vanish.

Aside from Utah, Minnesota is the only other state where only this weaker beer can be legally sold in grocery and convenience stores. But 3.2 percent beer isn’t so popular there, and Minnesota’s liquor laws are otherwise more lenient — Utah’s liquor stores are entirely state-run, Utah restaurants can be fined for selling alcohol before food is ordered, and until recently, many establishments were required to have a “Zion curtain,” a cumbersome structure that blocked customers from seeing alcoholic beverages being prepared.

An easy fix would be for Utah to change the laws to allow grocery and convenience stores to carry stronger beer, but a state representative quoted in the Tribune says the government isn’t eager to get into liquor laws again after relaxing them in 2017. Much of the state is Mormon — and in line with religious doctrine, those Utahans shun alcohol.

Unless Utah lawmakers allow stronger beer in grocery stores, beer drinkers might soon have fewer options, Anheuser-Busch says [Salt Lake Tribune]
Utah Restaurateurs Urge State to Nix Burdensome Liquor Law [E]