A toast to Utah liquor dollars: They topped a half-billion for first time

For the first time in Utah history, annual sales of wine, beer and spirits broke the half-billion mark.

Alcohol sales in the state reached $500.32 million in fiscal 2019-20, which ended June 30, according to preliminary numbers presented Tuesday to the state liquor commission.

If those numbers hold, it would represent an increase of 4.38%, or $21 million, above the previous year — when sales hit $479.32 million.

Those dollars actually represent a slowdown in growth for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the state agency charged with alcohol sales and licensing. For several years, the state’s liquor sales had been rising 6% to 7% annually.

DABC officials had said previously that they anticipated the dip in the annual growth rate when the state allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell stronger beer — 5% alcohol by volume, up from 4%.

When that law took effect Nov. 1, 2019, about 50% of beers sold in Utah liquor stores shifted to retail stores and several top-selling brews — such as Stella Artois, Pacifico Lager and Sam Adams — moved off the liquor store shelves.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

In addition to overall revenue, the DABC also tallied the number of bottles sold, which tentatively dropped to 48.37 million. That’s a 6.81% decrease from the previous fiscal year, said DABC finance boss Man Diep.

While fewer bottles are being sold, the average bottle price shot up by more than a dollar to $10.34, Diep said. The previous year average bottle price $9.23 per bottle, an increase of more than 12% from the previous year.

Alcohol continues to be big business in Utah. On Tuesday, for example, a dozen new Utah restaurants received licenses from the DABC, allowing them to serve liquor with food.

In addition, the state approved a contract for a small liquor store — called a package agency — in the rural town of Torrey, a gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.

The liquor commission also granted manufacturing licenses to Ogden River Brewing Co., Ogden; Etta Place Cider, in Torrey; and Bold & Delaney Winery in the Dammeron Valley outside of St. George.

While the DABC generates millions, it does not keep all of the profits. After covering costs and employee wages and benefits, all net proceeds go to the state.

In fiscal 2018-19, the DABC contributed $191 million to state coffers. Most of it, some $118 million, went into the general fund to be used however lawmakers saw fit. The rest was divided among other programs, including school lunch, underage-drinking prevention and liquor law enforcement.