5 things to expect when Utah makes the switch to stronger beer

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stacks of beer at Smith's Grocery in Salt Lake City, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. Come Nov. 1, stronger beer will be available at Utah grocery and convenience stores.

Utah’s beer lovers are counting the days until Nov. 1 — 138 as of Saturday — when higher-alcohol brews will be allowed in grocery and convenience stores.

On that date, a new state law takes effect that boosts the allowable amount of alcohol in retail beer from 3.2 percent alcohol by weight to 4 percent. Stronger brews will continue to be sold at liquor stores operated by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos — in an interview on The Salt Lake Tribune-FOX 13 Utah “Booze News” podcast — answered questions about the switch and how it might cause delays and thinly stocked shelves; what might happen to liquor revenues at state-owned liquor stores; and can Utahns stop referring to “3.2 beer”? His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What will happen in November, when some of the higher alcohol beer products that are in Utah liquor stores now move to grocery and convenience stores?

Heavy beer is about 10 percent of our revenue. We anticipate at that point, we will lose maybe 50 percent of [the high-alcohol beer] we have listed. And so you begin to look at that and begin to compare that with the rate of growth that we normally experience. You know when push comes to shove, our thought is that — and hopefully it pans out that way — that there will be no loss in revenue for the state. But what will happen is that our rate of growth will probably flatten. There’s some heavy hitters that are going to be going away. For example, Stella Artois, Pacifico Lagers and Sam Adams will go into grocery and convenience stores.

Are you going to replace them with other beer products? Or wine and spirits?

We plan to replace most, if not all of them, with beer. The question becomes: Will those replacements perform as well? When you talk about heavy hitters, it’s difficult to say that beer X can actually perform as well as, say, Stella Artois, which has name recognition and is a nice go-to when you’re having a beer with your friends. I don’t knows how well these new products will perform. There’s a demand for beer here — at least heavy beer, especially from those who are connoisseurs of craft and think that we probably should carry more craft beer. Again, the question is whether or not craft beers are willing to deal with us [the DABC] because of our unique situation — which is to say that we don’t refrigerate. We do know some brands that won’t deal with us because of that.

What are the logistics for grocery and convenience stores? How can they switch from lower-alcohol beer on Oct. 31 to higher percent on Nov. 1?

There’s a bit of a technical snag in terms of logistics, since the legislation anticipates flipping the switch. So there may be a period of time that some grocery stores and convenience stores may not have 5 percent [4 percent by weight] beer, because technically speaking they can’t store it, nor can they sell it until Nov. 1. So there is that issue that’s out there. That’s what industry tells us. And they point to the fact that Kansas had a landing zone. So that’s something that probably needs to be worked out — if it needs to be worked out.

As part of the new law, the Legislature called for a beer task force. What can you tell us about who is on that?

About a month ago, we received notice from the Legislature that members of the task force have been appointed or agreed upon. [See list below.] What you see here are individuals who have been involved in alcohol legislation before and are well aware of things that are going on in the state who can address those issues pretty well.

Can Utah start talking about beer using the alcohol-by-volume measure, the more common industry standard. No more alcohol by weight?

We’re just gonna call it beer. When you begin to talk about 5.0 [ABV] beer, essentially you begin to look at the mainline products by the main manufacturers like Budweiser. A lot of products that they currently are making now are going to become available. They don’t have to make a special run [batch] for Utah.

Beer Study Group members

• Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

• Sen. Don Ipsen, R-St. George.

• Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville.

• Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden.

• Andy Zweber, president of General Distributing.

• Peter Erickson, co-owner Epic Brewing and a member of the Utah Brewers Guild.

• Gilbert Canizales,, Region Government Affairs Director at Anheuser-Busch

• Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association.

• Nick Hales, Utah entrepreneur and community representative.