Bountiful • Grey Murdock was skeptical as he pulled a 12-pack of Budweiser from the shelf.
A new state law kicked in Friday at 12:01 a.m., raising the alcohol limit on beer sold in grocery and convenience stores, but the Bountiful resident wasn’t going to believe it until he inspected the label himself.
When he saw the words “5% alcohol by volume,” he let out a little cheer. “Hallelujah! It’s been a long wait.”
For the first time since Prohibition, Utahns are now able to buy beer that is 5% ABV in retail outlets — up from 4% ABV (or 3.2% by weight).
Dozens of regional and national brews, which were not available in Utah before, now sit on retail shelves across the state.
And 100 brews that have been sold exclusively in Utah’s state-owned liquor stores — including top sellers like Pacifico Lager, Stella Artois, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Newcastle Brown Ale — also moved into retail stores. Consumers will find those brews are cheaper than they were before the law changed, because they no longer are subject to the state’s 66.5% markup on beer.
Utah’s beer conversion has been years in the making — prompted when Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas adopted new laws to allow full-strength beer in stores and leaving Utah — and Minnesota — as the lone holdouts on low-alcohol beer.
Large companies, such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, warned that it wasn’t worth brewing lighter beer for such a small market and supplies would dwindle. The shift forced the Utah Legislature to up the alcohol cap that had stood for some 86 years.
As the Nov. 1 conversion date neared, beer aisles in the Beehive State began to run dry; many were nearly empty by Thursday.
“With Halloween, and beer being a limited commodity across the state, our shelves were wiped out," said Nate Valdez, the store manager at Smith’s Marketplace in Bountiful.
But overnight, while Utahns were sleeping through their Halloween sugar comas, distributors and wholesalers brought in an army of help to restock the shelves so that most stores were at full beer capacity by midday Friday.
Alex Wood was surprised to see the fully stocked shelves at 11:30 a.m.
“It’s a good move,” he said of the law change. “It gives the consumer more choices, and that’s always better.”
He lamented, though, that the Legislature didn’t go further and allow hard ciders and wine in grocery stores.
“I’m originally from Oregon," he said, "so I’m used to having everything, except hard liquor, in the grocery stores.”
Still, Wood said, pointing to the beer display, “this is a step in the right direction.”
As of Friday, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had about 230 cases of the 5% beer that it did not sell before Friday’s conversion date, said spokesman Terry Wood.
Because the products can’t be returned to manufacturers and the state agency cannot sell products that compete with the private sector, Wood said, the beer will be destroyed in an “environmentally friendly way.”
A recycling company will collect the beer from the DABC warehouse in Salt Lake City sometime in the next week and deliver it to a digester in North Salt Lake that takes food scraps and turns them into natural gas and fertilizers. The aluminum and glass cans also will be recycled.
Andy Shafer has been anticipating the arrival of stronger beer while also seeing irony in the move.
“It’s comical that the state raises the alcohol percentage on beer almost at the same time they dropped the DUI limit [to a nation’s lowest 0.05],” he said. “They give and they take. I guess we are still trying to win the battle.”