Guv signs off, so Utah’s 3.2 beer law is on its way out. Stronger brews will be in grocery stores Nov. 1

After 86 years, Utah’s 3.2 beer law finally met its demise Tuesday, when Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB132, making way for higher-alcohol brews in grocery and convenience stores.

The law, which takes effect Nov. 1 in an early Christmas gift for beer lovers, boosts the state cap on retail beer from 3.2 percent to 4 percent alcohol by weight. Stronger brews will continue to be sold at liquor stores operated by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Even with the stronger beer, the Beehive State will continue to have one of the nation’s strictest alcohol limits. Currently, 18 states have caps on alcohol for beer and wine sold in grocery and convenience stores. The average limit is 12.4 percent ABV, much less restrictive than Utah.

The law also boosts the allowable alcohol content on beer served on tap — sometimes called draft beer — at restaurants and bars.

As part of the compromise, worked out on the final day of 2019 legislative session, the state will boost the tax on barrels of beer from $12.80 — already the highest in the nation — to $13.10. The additional 30 cents will be used for enforcement.

The increase will trickle down to drinkers, said Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association. “It always gets passed on to consumers.”

But the increase should be minimal, less than a cent per can or bottle.

A “beer availability work group,” staffed by the DABC, also was created to study issues of availability, alcohol content and retail practices during the next nine months and report findings to legislative interim committees.

Olsen said stores have seven months to figure out how to take 3.2 beer out of the store Oct. 31, so that higher alcohol beer is available Nov. 1.

Beer brewers say they also will use the next seven months to adjust recipes and get new beer labels approved and printed, a process that usually takes months.

Utah’s 3.2 law dates back 86 years. Nine months before Prohibition was officially repealed, Congress passed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed the production of 3.2 percent beer. It was a major step at a time when making alcohol was not allowed. Cullen-Harrison fell away when Prohibition was repealed in late 1933, but many states, including Utah, left the law on the books.

Herbert on Tuesday signed a total of 66 bills and resolutions, including a proposal to raise the state’s minimum marriage age to 16 and require both parental consent and judicial approval for 16- and 17-year-olds to wed.

The state’s current law allows minors as young as 15 to marry if they have judicial and parental consent. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, initially wanted to prohibit all underage marriages but she later agreed to change state law more gradually. She says she expects to come back in future legislative sessions to raise the marriage age again.

Other bills signed Tuesday by Herbert include:

  • HB179, which makes it a criminal misdemeanor to illegally obstruct state or local roadways.

  • SB34, which encourages cities to plan for affordable housing development.

  • SB147, which requires lobbyists to complete annual courses on workplace harassment and discrimination.

  • HB 258, which boosts the penalty for operating an escort service or other sexually oriented business without a license.

  • SB32, which provides the option of a public defender to children at essentially all juvenile court proceedings.

  • SB161, which makes various corrective changes to the state’s new medical cannabis act. For instance, the bill extends interim decriminalization protections to parents and legal guardians of minors who are qualified cannabis patients.

  • SB188, which bars health care providers from conducting pelvic examinations on unconscious patients without their consent, except in certain listed situations.

Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.