This should give anyone who loves session beers or groups trying to keep people from getting blotto a case of apoplexy. A new law in Colorado, actually a bill amended last spring, “now requires the state to enforce license restrictions to a T.”
The law requires to-the-letter enforcement of the state’s existing beer regulations. Bars, restaurants and liquor stores can sell only beer that is above 4 percent alcohol by volume. Grocery and convenience stores are allowed to sell only alcohol with less than 4 percent alcohol by volume.
So this is coming from the C-stores and groceries trying to protect their turf of low-alcohol beer. But the consequences are absurd, and will make it essentially illegal for any restaurant or bar to serve patrons beer that’s below 4% a.b.v. According to the Denver Post’s report, Stout Opposition to Looming Limits on Selling Lower-Alcohol Beer in Taverns, Restaurants, “[t]echnically, bars, restaurants and liquor stores in Colorado should never have sold the lower-alcohol beers in the first place, though no one ever paid much attention. Their licenses allow them to sell spirits, wine and beers that fall into the ‘malt liquor’ category.”
The original purpose of the law stems from the post-prohibition period when many laws enacted to regulate alcohol tried to limit access to it. Though Prohibition was a rousing failure, temperance groups merely shifted tactics and locally many of those early laws were an attempt to make it more difficult for alcohol to flow freely again as it had prior to 1920. Colorado’s answer was to enact laws that strictly specified which products could be sold where and that’s why modern Colorado has its peculiar alcohol landscape. But until now, the law restricting beers below 4% a.b.v. in bars and restaurants was not enforced. Increasingly, convenience and grocery stores saw that as a threat to their exclusive right to sell low-alcohol beer but were blocked time and time again from doing anything about it … until now, that is.
As is often the case, following the money does lead us to the answer. It’s about business, of course. I love this quote from Jason Hopfer, a C-store lobbyist. “Either stop selling the product we sell, or let’s stop having this false delineation on beer. Let’s let beer be beer.”
Yes, let’s let beer be beer, by all means. That is the obvious solution. To do that, we’d have to do away with Colorado’s ridiculous division that brands “beer” as anything under 4% a.b.v. and anything over it as “malt liquor.” That would be best for society as a whole, for the brewers and anyone who believes drinking lower alcohol beer while out in public is a safer idea. But as you might expect, the businesses that have benefited from these state-mandated monopolies for over 75 years are loathe to level the playing field. I think it’s simply an unknown. It doesn’t appear certain who would benefit or be hurt the most if all Colorado businesses could sell any strength beer. But it would change things considerably. And change is scary.
As the Denver Post story makes clear, nobody in the effected trade groups seem particularly concerned because they believe that when the next session of Colorado’s state legislature begins in early January, that the obvious absurdity of what this law would create will be addressed and fixed. Maybe, I’ve never followed Colorado’s state politics too closely so it’s hard to know how reasonable that belief is. But surely some of the politicians who supported this amendment with the language it currently uses had to know what the actual consequences would be. That’s perhaps the scariest thing of all, that they could accept the business argument in this case, ignoring the all too obvious negative repercussions. Save the Session Beers!