Saturday, December 15, 2012

FC After Hours - Colorado beer laws again in flux

FC After HoursDoes the thought ever cross your mind that one day soon you might be able to buy a can of Deviant Dales or Ten Fidy from your local convenience store in Colorado? That day may be coming if certain state legislators get their way. The debate is back for the 5th time to allow full strength beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Will it pass this time?

Colorado beer laws again in flux

You'd think after failing to pass into law 4 straight times that the effort to allow full strength beer sales in grocery and convenience stores would die and go away. Nope. It's about to be back on the table once again in January 2013 if Colorado Representative Kevin Priola has his way. Priola and others believe that passing this law would actually help Colorado breweries sell more beer and provide even more access to their products.

Breweries and craft beer fans seem split over the issue. Some say that passing such law could actually backfire and cost jobs and force many liquor stores and a few small breweries out of business. Others fear that large chain stores like Walmart, Target, King Soopers and Safeway, whose corporate offices are outside of Colorado, would potentially ignore local breweries and stock more out of state high volume beers and not necessarily craft beer.

On the PRO side, some think that this measure could actually increase shelf space for local micro brews and wonder what the big deal is. After all, other states have been doing this for years. But Colorado, who is one of the biggest craft beer producers in the nation, has been very careful to protect their growing industry. Colorado has a lot more at stake than most states and brewers here tend to be a lot more cautious on such laws. After all, craft beer helps to employ a lot of people here.

One twist in this pending legislation is that the new law would focus primarily on just allowing craft breweries smaller than a certain size (yet to be determined) to be sold in these new venues. Larger national breweries may be restricted or blocked (but you know that'll cause another fight later on). Also in this proposed bill, individual cities would have the ability to say yea or nay to permit such sales in their local stores.

Some of us may have grown up in a state where sales of full strength beer and wine was legal in grocery and convenience stores. They may think that it's a nice convenience, but from personal experience, the kind of selection these stores offer is more often lacking. Those shelves are mostly stocked with macro beers leaving very little room for craft beers. And a lot of that craft beer they do stock isn't exactly local or in a big selection either.

Sadly, local liquors stores can't stay in business just selling the lower volume craft beers, they have to sell a ton of macro beers just to stay afloat. Chain grocery and convenience stores would certainly take a huge bite out of the macro beer sales should this new effort become law. And that alone might be big enough to shutter several doors at local liquor stores. And when specialty liquor stores close, craft beer sales hurt more.

Colorado lawColorado lawmakers should think long and hard about passing such laws. While lawmakers may think that this new legislation would help smaller breweries in the state, it may end up killing jobs at our favorite local liquor stores and hurting local craft beer sales. Having more places to buy full strength beer may actually result in fewer good places with local craft beer selection and lowered sales from Colorado craft breweries.

Small convenience stores don't have much shelf space to dedicate to beer anyway. They tend to stock what sells cheapest and fastest - and that's macro beer and snacks. They probably won't sacrifice more shelf space to sell beer unless it was highly profitable. Perhaps it would be, but then they'd end up being more like a liquor store. And with children having full access to shelves at convenience stores, would this make it easier for them to obtain stronger beer illegally?

We should be more concerned about what's going to happen at big chain stores. They have the ability to dedicate a lot of space for beer and are the ones who will end up taking away the most customers from other retailers and potentially driving small mom and pop liquor stores out of business. Many grocery checkers aren't even 21 years old themselves and stores might have to replace them with older adults in order to control sales and keep higher alcohol brews out of minor's hands.

The Colorado Brewers Guild has been against these types of laws in the past and has yet to speak out on this latest effort until they see the final draft of the new proposed legislation. Only if they felt that such a measure wouldn't harm the craft industry would they favor it.

What do you think about this? Do you see this legislation as a potential threat to small liquor stores? Would this make stronger alcohol more easily available to under age drinkers? Do you think that big chain stores would end up bringing in more out of state beers that would compete with local brands? Or do you think all this worry is for nothing and look forward to being able to shop for food and beer all in the same place? Are local Colorado craft breweries worried for the wrong reasons?

For more details, see the recent article from the Colorado Statesman.

Related articles:
- Benefit proposed to support Strange Brewing legal battle.
- Greeley unveils downtown open container policy.
- Here we go again with Colorado beer laws. (2009)

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