Utah moves closer to dumping 3.2 beer for heavier brews

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Senate committee has voted unanimously in favor of dumping 3.2 beer in favor of heavier brews.

Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, changes the legal definition of beer in Utah from 3.2 to 4.8% alcohol-by-weight. It's in response to an issue FOX 13 has reported on for some time: as bigger drinking states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado dump 3.2 beer, Utah is left alone (and we don't drink a lot).

As a result, mega-breweries like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have informed the state they will not make special batches just for Utah.

"It’s been 3.2 in Utah since I believe 1933 when Prohibition went down," Sen. Stevenson told the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Thursday.

Product has already started disappearing from store shelves. The Responsible Beer Choice Coalition, which is pushing for the change, supplied FOX 13 with a list of disappearing brands.

Click here to see the list.

"If we don’t do this the selection’s going to be smaller, correct?" asked Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City.

"Correct," Sen. Stevenson replied.

Public comment was largely against the bill. Opponents complained that youth drinking would spike and it would allow much higher alcohol content in grocery and convenience stores.

"I'm opposed to adding more alcohol," said Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum.

Stan Rasmussen of the Sutherland Institute also urged the committee to reject the bill.

"The lower price of alcoholic beverages, the more overconsumption and underage drinking we see," he said.

But supporters of the bill argued that it was about consumer choice.

"The change in the availability of 3.2 beer has had a significant impact on Maverik’s ability to stock different options for our consumers and customers," said David Hancock, the general counsel for Maverik Inc., the state's largest convenience store chain.

The Utah Brewer's Guild was divided amongst itself on the bill. Some supported the bill, but other members wanted an even higher alcohol content to ensure they had the ability to compete in the marketplace.

"For me, this is a bill about consumer choice and free markets," said Fisher Brewing Co's Tim Dwyer.

Sen. Stevenson rejected the claims of higher alcohol content and a spike in youth drinking.

"This is a commerce bill. This isn’t a lot of the issues in that hearing had nothing to do with commerce. Nothing to do with what the bill is really about," Sen. Stevenson told FOX 13 after the hearing. "We’re tied as the lowest in the country with alcohol content in beer. We take care of the consumer and I don’t believe we jeopardize the citizens."

But Sen. Stevenson also said he was not willing to budge on raising the alcohol content in beer beyond 4.8.

"This is it," he said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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