Liquor lucrative as ever as Utah’s yearly sales top $454M and five more bars gain licenses

The flow of liquor in Utah continues to rise — as does the river of revenue.

On Tuesday, for example, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control granted five new bar licenses, four new restaurant liquor licenses and three licenses to manufacture beer.

A theater company at The Gateway mall in downtown Salt Lake City, a bowling and amusement center in Sandy, and the equestrian park in South Jordan also got approval to serve beer.

As if that weren’t enough, the liquor commission also heard that alcohol sales at Utah restaurants, bars and its state-controlled liquor stores may have reached nearly $454 million during fiscal 2017-18, which ended June 30.

While the official totals won’t be available until September, liquor seems to be surging in the Beehive State, said John T. Nielsen, chairman of the state liquor commission. “It sounds like we are financial healthy and getting more so every day.”

And there’s no sign of those sales receding anytime soon.

Experts credit a combination of the state’s strong economy and its flourishing tourism industry — both of which draw out-of-staters who are less likely to be Mormons, whose religion instructs them to abstain from alcohol.

In 2016-17, annual retail liquor sales reached $427.6 million. The DABC kept about $51 million to cover operating costs and employee wages and benefits. The rest, under Utah law, was returned to the state. The DABC transferred $106 million to the general fund, $43 million to Utah’s school lunch program, more than $4 million to the State Bureau of Investigation for liquor law enforcement, and more than $2 million to an education program that works to prevent underage drinking.

About $23 million in sales taxes went to state, county and city governments.

Those sales figures don’t include beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores.

Not all the news from the DABC was good.

Two bars — Circle Lounge in Salt Lake City and Savoy in Price — had liquor licenses revoked in a 4-2 vote. The managers failed to attend a new DABC training class, mandated under a new state law.

Letters and emails, notifying the owners of their noncompliance, were sent without a response, said Rob Hansen, a DABC licensing and compliance specialist.

“Something that is the core of your business you should take care of and make it a priority,” said Commissioner Thomas Jacobson. “Compliance with the law is something they need to be concerned about.”

Revoking those bar licenses, however, meant the commission could give them to businesses on the waiting list.

Bars that gained licenses Tuesday were Alibi and TF Brewing, both in Salt Lake City; Policy Kings Brewery in Cedar City; Lift at Brian Head; and Brazen Head Saloon in Tooele.

These businesses are expected to open in August and then will begin pushing Utah’s liquor sales even higher.