On Friday the 13th, just before happy hour, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that reversed the only victory in years for those fighting to get full-strength beer in grocery and convenience stores.
Governor Hickenlooper’s intentions aren’t malicious. A former brewer, Hickenlooper is simply trying to preserve the system that his craft brewing constituents assert creates the best environment for craft beer. That system divides beer into two categories: low-alcohol or 3.2 beer, which grocery stores and convenience stores may sell, and high-alcohol beer, anything above 3.2, which liquor stores, bars, and restaurants may sell.
As I have written before, the craft brewers are mistaken in their assumption that grocery store sales would have a negative impact on craft beer in Colorado. And even the liquor stores, who assert that grocery store sales of beer would put them out of business, could thrive in a liberated market.
Grocery and convenience stores backed by consumers who want cheaper more convenient options have asking year after year for the state to have one definition for beer and to allow beer to be sold, regardless of the alcohol content, in grocery, liquor, and convenience stores, as well as bars and restaurants. Yet, for at least four years running, all the bills introduced in the state legislature to change the beer regulations have been knocked down. Until last year.
Frustrated with yet another failed attempt, proponents of “real beer” in grocery stores had an ally in the state legislature attach an amendment to another bill, which passed, forcing the state to begin enforcing all of its liquor laws to the letter. What this meant, in effect, was that bars, restaurants, and taverns were banned from selling low-alcohol beer. Though the rule had been on the books for a long time, the state had never enforced it.
Again, the proponents of the ban had no malicious intent. The move was an attempt to highlight the silliness of dividing beer in Colorado into two classes and giving special privileges to different types of outlets as to who can sell what. Proponents of grocery-stores hoped that the ban would bring public support to their cause and add momentum to their bills, which last year saw more movement and got further than in previous years.
However, once former brewer and newly minted governor John Hickenlooper took office he promptly intervened in the rule-making process -- a move for which he earned some criticism.
Unfortunately, the cries of consumers and grocery store owners went unheeded and on Friday, May 13, Hickenlooper officially signed a bill into law that explicitly allows bars and restaurants to serve beer with less than 3.2 percent ABV. To be sure, bars and restaurants should be allowed to offer low-alcohol beer, it’s a sensible move, but it would also be sensible to allow grocery stores to sell high-alcohol beer and to get rid of the low-high division completely.