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Craft breweries busy at work prior to state law change

Many craft breweries across the state, including Uinta Brewing Company, are tinkering with products in anticipation of changes to state alcohol laws on November 1. Photo: John Wojcik

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Craft breweries across the state are in “wait-and-see” mode as they anticipate a November 1 change to state alcohol laws.

When the calendar flips over, the permitted alcohol-by-volume of beer sold in supermarkets will increase from four percent to five percent.

It may not seem like a big move, but for many major domestic brews, like Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, it means they no longer will have to produce a special 3.2% alcohol-by-weight product for Utah.

All three of those products have an alcohol-by-volume between four and five percent, meaning their standard brews will now find themselves on the shelves of Utah supermarkets.

While this change obviously makes things much simpler for major brands distributing to Utah, it puts local craft brewers in an interesting spot.

“The public may have a perception that it’s going to diversify their options,” explained Uinta Brewing Company President Jeremy Ragonese. “The question is, were those the options that the public really wanted?”

He points out that while the range of beers available to be sold at supermarkets will expand, the shelf space available for those products will not.

In theory, local craft beers should be able to grow their footprint with this upcoming expansion, but it also opens the door for variations of major brands to start appearing in greater numbers.

He says there’s a lot of unknown for local breweries, but at its core, it’s a good thing.

Uinta will be using this opportunity to make some of their four percent brews stronger.

In fact, they’ve decided to beef up one of their most popular beers, Cutthroat Pale Ale, from four percent to five percent ABV.

Even the beers staying at five percent should get a boost since they’ll be able to be stocked at supermarkets and not only at state liquor stores.

The challenge the past few months has been accurately estimating when to stop producing certain four percent brews and replace them with an updated product.

“To run out of beer at the exact moment when retailers don’t want four percent beer and to start putting five-percent beer in the market, that was probably the biggest problem of all,” he said.

The state legislature has already approved a bill to allow retailers and outlets a weeklong “pre-stage” period prior to November 1 in order for them to get properly supplied in anticipation of the switch.

While the upcoming changes are exciting for retailers, and craft breweries are ready to enjoy the creative flexibility, they admit more adjustments are hopefully on the horizon.

“Can we push for more change?” asked Ragonese. “Can we lobby to get other changes that would really support the industry?”

He points out that one of their most popular brews nationwide, Hop Nosh IPA, still can’t be sold in the state of Utah due to its ABV over seven-percent.

In the meantime, a special task force created by the state legislature will be monitoring the impact of dumping 3.2 beer and may have a say on if the state moves to stronger alcohol content being made available.