A rule that removed half the hard seltzers from Utah grocery shelves may again be rewritten, while an effort to loosen up the state’s number of bar licenses may be tightened.
Those are two of the provisions in an amended version of the Utah Legislature’s annual omnibus liquor bill, which passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday. The bill now goes to the full Senate.
The seltzer rule, passed last year, keeps any beverage that contains a trace of ethyl alcohol — a commonly used stabilizer for artificial flavorings — from being sold in grocery stores. The rule meant that some hard seltzers and similar malt beverages could be sold in grocery stores and some only in state liquor stores, even for different flavors of the same brand.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and the Utah Legislature’s point person on alcohol policy, told the Senate Business and Labor Committee that the revised rule would permit flavored malt beverages in grocery and convenience stores if their flavorings are based on ethanol, ethyl alcohol and propylene glycol — provided those flavorings make up less than 10% of the total alcohols in the drink, and that the beverage’s total alcohol level not exceed 5%.
Making a comparison to the extracts in a grocery store, Stevenson said, “if you look in the Schilling’s aisle, you will find that there are a lot of flavorings there that have ethyl alcohol in them, also.”
Another major amendment to the omnibus liquor bill affects how many bar licenses the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services’ commission can issue — and it gives the commission far less maneuvering room to hand out the valuable licenses.
The number of bar licenses is set by population quota, one for every 10,200 residents in the state. Right now, DABS has handed out 335 bar licenses statewide, and will have only one to give at the commission’s meeting on Thursday.
An earlier draft of Stevenson’s bill would have exempted licenses held by fraternal groups and equity groups, like country clubs, from being counted in the population quota. When Stevenson released that draft in early February, he said the exemption would have freed up 40 bar licenses.
The amended version of the bill doesn’t specify an exemption for fraternal and equity groups, but only mentions an exemption for “a certain number of bar establishment licenses.” Stevenson said that number would be around 20 bar licenses.
That addition, said DABS commissioner Tara Thue, will only postpone the problem bar owners are facing in getting licenses. “We will be out by this summer, is my prediction,” Thue told the committee.
The DABS commission’s chair, Juliette Tennert, added that “it’s very difficult to make decisions with such a scarcity of licenses.”
Both Tennert and Thue said a shortage of restaurant licenses is looming. “We’re getting very close there,” Tennert said, while Thue noted that the commission has a total of 18 restaurant licenses available statewide, and 13 applicants in line to take them.
Thue was more complimentary of another item in the bill that would allow a restaurant customer to walk their own drink from the bar to the dining area. The amended bill does require a restaurant employee to escort the diner to their table, though.
The change will cut down on alcohol consumption, Thue said. “No longer will people have to pound their drinks before they walk to their table to have their dinner,” she said.