SALT LAKE CITY — One of the world’s biggest brewing companies warned this month that it may stop creating weak beer that can be sold at Utah grocery and convenience stores where stronger beer, wine and liquor sales are forbidden.
Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser and a number of other brands, said in a letter to Utah beer wholesalers that it may reduce the low-alcohol beer it offers, going from 20 brands down to 12.
A handful of states had limited beer sold in grocery stores to 3.2 percent alcohol-by-weight, but most of those states lifted the restriction in recent years. Utah and Minnesota will soon be the only two states with the restriction, creating a smaller market and less incentive for brewers to make the weaker brews.
Anheuser-Busch, which said it’s still weighing its options, noted in its letter that only 0.5 percent of beers sales in the U.S. are 3.2 percent alcohol-by-weight or less.
The cuts won’t make as big of a dent in Minnesota, where higher-alcohol brews make up most of the beer purchased. But in Utah, where low-alcohol grocery store beers make up 90 percent of the beer purchased, it will have a huge hit, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .
Utah beer wholesalers and the state’s liquor control department have warned that if shoppers have fewer options to buy beer at Utah grocery stores, it could send many more shoppers to state-run liquor stores.
Other beer, liquor and wine can be sold at the states 45 state-run stores, along with 100 private stores that are contracted to sell alcohol.
Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association, has proposed raising or abandoning the alcohol limits and has notified Utah lawmakers about the brewer’s potential cutbacks.
“There could be a market reaction if they take a lot of stuff off the market. But the thing is we don’t know that,” said Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who has spearheaded alcohol-related legislation in recent years. “We’re a long way from panic mode.”
Stevenson said he’s not sure if lawmakers need to address the Utah in 2018 because they passed major liquor overhauls in 2017.
Efforts to loosen alcohol laws in Utah, where many lawmakers are teetotaling Mormons, often come in increments and are bundled with added restrictions.
Lawmakers this year voted to allow restaurants to take down walls and partitions nicknamed “Zion Curtains,” that prevent customers from seeing their alcoholic drinks being mixed and poured. The Legislature also voted to adapt the strictest DUI threshold in the country, lowering the blood alcohol limit to 0.05 percent, down from 0.08 percent.
The Anheuser-Busch letter was first reported by KSTU-TV on Monday.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com