It could be another record year for alcohol sales in Utah.
Sales of beer, wine and spirits in the state topped $479 million for fiscal 2018-19, which ended June 30, according to preliminary numbers presented to the state liquor commission Tuesday.
If those numbers hold, it would represent an increase of 5.65%, or $25.6 million, over the previous year — when sales hit $453.69 million, said Man Diep, finance director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The new sales figures include beer, wine and spirits sold at restaurants, bars and in Utah’s state-run liquor stores. They don’t include beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores.
"The numbers are preliminary and are subject to change,” said Cade Meier, DABC deputy director. Official sales numbers should be available by September.
However, Utah liquor sales have been rising 6% to 7% annually for several years. It’s a trend that could end in 2019 because of recent changes to grocery and convenience store beer.
In addition to overall revenue, the DABC also looks at bottle sales each year, Diep said. Total bottle sales during the past year shot up from 48.2 million to 51.9 million, a 7.48% jump.
Diep said alcohol sales per day also rose 6% during the 12-month period, from $1.5 million to $1.59 million.
Alcohol continues to be a big business in Utah, partly because of the state’s strong economy and its flourishing tourism industry — both of which draw out-of-staters who are less likely to belong to Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches members to abstain from alcohol.
On Tuesday, for example, 12 Utah restaurants received licenses from the DABC allowing them to serve liquor with food. In addition, the state approved contracts for small liquor stores — called package agencies — in the rural towns of Boulder and Ephraim; and the liquor commission granted manufacturing licenses to three new beer brewers, one each in Salt Lake City, Lehi and Heber City.
Despite all that, the DABC expects alcohol sales to flatten in fiscal 2019-20, because the state raised the allowable alcohol content of retail brews from 4% alcohol by volume to 5% ABV earlier this year.
When the law takes effect Nov. 1, about 50% of beers now sold in Utah liquor stores will shift to the retail stores. Several top-selling brews such as Icehouse, Stella Artois, Pacifico Lager and Sam Adams will move off the liquor store shelves, potentially slowing DABC revenue growth.
Transferring beer to retail stores, however, will open up space at the liquor stores for other products, which could make up the difference.
No matter how much the DABC makes, it doesn’t keep all that money. It used $45.6 million in fiscal 2018-19 to cover operating costs and employee wages and benefits.
The liquor agency returned $191 million to the state. Under Utah law, here is where the money went:
• $112.31 million to the general fund.
• $45.43 million to the school lunch program.
• $2.57 million to Parents Empowered, the DABC’s underage drinking prevention program.
• $1.75 million for underage drinking prevention programs in schools.
• $4.54 million to State Bureau of Investigation for liquor law enforcement.
• $24.46 million in sales taxes collected and disbursed to the state, local counties and municipalities.