Good Beer Hunting

Anheuser-Busch Warns Utah Wholesalers it May Rein in Production of 3.2 Beer


This week in inevitability, Anheuser-Busch InBev informed Utah beer wholesalers that, in 2018, the brewing giant might slash its portfolio of the low point beer it makes special for the market. The move comes as the few other states that mandate beer sold in certain retail channels not exceed 3.2% alcohol by weight have streamlined their laws, putting the company in a predicament where it’s going very much out of its way to make a specific product for a quantifiably shrinking crowd.

Meanwhile, the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association says it’s hearing a similar tune from MillerCoors, telling the Salt Lake City Fox affiliate, “They’re looking at it and there will be some reductions in the number of products they produce.” At the same time, lawmakers don’t seem to be in a rush to change anything despite the negative impact a significant loss of 3.2 beer with no law change would have on innumerable businesses.

We’ve hammered this nail before, a couple of times, but to quickly rehash: If the laws don’t change, but brewers stop making 3.2 beer, it’s likely to wreak havoc in the retail tier, as an untold number of small business rely on low point beer sales for, in some cases, up to 50% of all revenue. Furthermore, eliminating the utterly arbitrary 3.2 cap—a Prohibition holdover—wouldn’t just help massive companies, but critically, it would create an incredibly wide new avenue to market for the state’s own small brewers, which boast a collective creativity unbound by the law currently barring the majority of their products from grocery and convenience stores. It follows, then, that doing away with the cap—or here’s an idea, even just raising it a bit to better align with the industry in its current shape—would behoove all involved.

It’s simple, really. So why are we here again?

Here’s why:

“[Jim] Olsen, [president, Utah Beer Wholesalers Association] said he’s alerted lawmakers — specifically Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville — to the possible cutbacks.

Stevenson said he’s aware of the threats, and he’s spoken with legislative leaders about the issue. But he said the state isn’t clamoring for a fix just yet.

‘I don’t know that this is the right year to even consider this,’ Stevenson said, referring to the upcoming legislative session. ‘We had a major alcohol [legislation] year last year.’”

Yes, thank you, Senator, for your service. Essentially, we have here a lawmaker responding to a constituent’s warning about oncoming and utterly inevitable dangers facing his industry with a shrug emoji because “we did alcohol already.” And, indeed, they did: This past March, Utah lawmakers tightened the state’s DUI threshold and—this is not a joke—relaxed a rule that requires restaurants literally veil the process of mixing and pouring alcoholic drinks, lest a child witness for themselves how to make a cocktail and commit the process to memory. (Of course, it didn’t get rid of the “Zion Curtain” rule entirely. Rather, restaurants can ditch the physical barrier if they create a 10-foot child-free buffer zone around the bar. Incredible.)

All of which is to say, if Stevenson’s call for inaction is answered by his colleagues, and if ABI and MillerCoors stay true to their word in reining in 3.2 production, things are going to get quite messy in Utah.

—Dave Eisenberg