Big changes hit Utah’s beer shelves – Region sees effects of shift in Utah’s beer alcohol level

Empty beer shelves await new stock in Richfield Oct. 31. Beer shelves throughout the state were empty as retailers waited to restock with product with higher alcohol content, which was allowed Friday.

For a few days, beer was a scarce commodity on retail shelves in Utah. 

Retailers have been clearing out old stock in preparation to put higher alcohol content product on Utah’s shelves.

The change, approved by the Utah Legislature with Senate Bill 132, marks the end of the sale of 3.2 percent by weight beer in the state’s grocery and convenience stores. 

“It’s been in place since prohibition,” said Terry Wood, public information officer for the Utah Division of Alcohol Beverage Control. “It’s been around for 83 years.”

However, Friday shelves were restocked as retail establishments across the state were allowed to start selling beer that is 4 percent alcohol by weight, which works out to be the same as 5 percent alcohol by volume. 

“Utah was the last state that had 3.2 percent beer,” Wood said. 

The bill, signed into law by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in March, set Nov. 1 as the official first day for the sale of higher alcohol content beer. While the percentage has increased, Utah still remains one of the lower states when it comes to beer alcohol content.

However, the change will allow for more variety of brews to be sold by retailers, Wood said. He said the state’s own liquor outlets will now no longer sell beer that is below 4 percent by weight or lower. This will free up shelf space in state stores for other different beer varieties.

“We’re not in competition with the retailers,” Wood said. 

The original proposal was to up Utah’s limit to 5 percent by weight, approximately 6.2 percent by volume, but the number was negotiated down, Wood said.

The change also affects establishments serving beer on tap, which will also be able to sell more potent brews, and may also result in more variety being available for people to choose from.

However, with the upping of alcohol content in beer comes a tax increase. 

The tax on beer increased Friday by 30 cents per 31-gallon barrel. This means that a 31-gallon barrel of beer  — beer is measured in barrels, even when packaged in cans and bottles — will increase from $12.80 to $13.10 as a result of the SB 132 law.

The increase in the beer tax is expected to generate $350,000 annually, according to the Utah State Tax Commission. 

Beginning July 1, 2020, the revenue from the increased taxes will go to the Alcoholic Beverage Enforcement and Treatment Restricted Account.

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