Despite drop in beer sales, Utah liquor stores topped last year’s pre-Christmas totals

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sales at Utah's state-run liquor stores — this one shown just before Thanksgiving — topped $15.5 million in the five sales day leading up to Christmas 2019.

Utah liquor stores sold a lot less beer — but more wine and spirits — in the five sales days leading up to Christmas, new state figures show.

Pre-Christmas beer sales at the state-run stores totaled more than $838,000 — down 43% from the same time last year, according to numbers from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

People are not drinking fewer ales and lagers than they did in 2018 — when beer sales at liquor stores topped $1.2 million in the days leading up to the December holiday. Rather, this yuletide — for the first time in 86 years — consumers were able to buy many of their favorite higher-alcohol brews in grocery and convenience stores.

A new state law, which kicked in Nov. 1, allows beer up to 5% alcohol by volume to be sold in retail outlets. About 100 beers that were between 4% and 5% ABV — and previously sold in liquor stores — moved into commercial outlets.

Under the new rules, liquor stores continue to sell beer that is above 5% ABV — as well as all wine and spirits. And because the measure pertains only to beer, flavored malt beverages, hard seltzers, canned cocktails and other specialty products that are below 5% ABV also will continue to be available in state stores.

The beer shift will slow the DABC’s overall sales growth, officials have said. But those losses should be tempered by higher sales of wine and spirits, which for several years have grown by almost 6% annually.

The five-day holiday sales data is a good example of that. Between Dec. 19 and 24 — excluding Sunday, Dec. 22, when liquor stores were closed — wine sales brought in $6.1 million — up from $5.7 million in 2018.

Sales of vodka, whiskey and other hard liquor during the five-day period were $8.4 million, up from $7.9 million

Overall, alcohol sales before Christmas topped $15.5 million, the DABC reported. That’s a jump of 3.8% from 2018, when sales were $14.9 million.