Even progressive Colorado has its quirky laws. For instance, you can’t buy real beer or wine in a Colorado grocery or convenient store. And what’s even weirder, some craft brewers prefer it that way. In typically bizarre liquor law fashion, Colorado’s current system only allows for grocery chains to sell high-ABV alcohol at one location in the state, leaving most of the market to independent liquor, beer and wine stores. So, in the majority of Colorado grocery stories, beer and wine is restricted to a cap of 3.2 percent alcohol by volume. Yet, under this system, independent liquor stores have thrived, and many craft breweries and craft distilleries have found both shelf space and success in these specialty stores.
But for quite a number of years now, a lot of Coloradans have been arguing for change. In fact, there’s a ballot proposal — being pushed by grocery stores, called Your Choice Colorado — that would ask voters in November to create a new license allowing supermarkets and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine.
Apparently, the grocery giants King Soopers, Safeway and Wal-Mart back the proposed changes. But before the ballot gets off the ground, some lawmakers want to come up with an agreement — something that would make all parties happy — because why let the people decide? Unfortunately, according to the always informative Durango Herald, the process isn’t going that smoothly, which is actually pretty normal, as this type of beer bill has been defeated six times over the last eight years in Colorado.
The details of the proposal are as hazy as a morning hangover, and discussions between stakeholders have been described by some observers as a “mess.”
Sounds like another winner. There are lots of arguments here. Grocery and convenience stores obviously want the right granted in 42 other states around the United States to sell high-ABV wine and beer (liquor is still being left off the ballot). Plus, some supermarkets can do craft some good; just read this story on Meijer helping the Michigan craft industry.
But the craft brewers (we see folks like Wiley Roots Brewing and Steamworks Brewing Co. get mentioned) argue that additional convenience does not mean additional choice, and in fact, could mean the exact opposite. Grocery stores do add a layer of complexity and politics to the distribution process. Grocery store companies often make decisions of what to stock for entire cities or regions, not individual stores. To contend for shelf space in chain grocery stores, sellers might have to drive or fly to a store’s headquarters, which might not even be in Colorado. That would cost considerably more money. Plus, breweries often rely on a liquor store’s knowledge of the market to sell their beer. That nice old lady at Wal-Mart probably doesn’t have that knowledge, which doesn’t even matter because Wal-Mart has probably never heard of your beer.
Grocery stores, liquor stores, craft breweries, craft distilleries and lawmakers all seem entrenched and uncompromising, so right now, “lawmakers working on the legislation say proposals run the gamut,” said the Durango Herald.
Ideas include a sweeping effort to allow beer, wine and liquor in supermarkets; permitting liquor stores to carry more than one retail license; phasing in beer and wine in supermarkets so that liquor stores have time to prepare; and capping the number of liquor licenses for retail establishments altogether so that new grocery stores would be required to purchase a new license.
“In an ideal world … if we passed a bill that allowed some form of sales of beer and wine in grocery stores, then there would be an agreement not to pursue the ballot initiative in the fall,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who has been part of discussions.
We could see how the ballot proposal could help larger Colorado craft breweries, but considering national chains like Safeway and Wal-Mart are pushing it, we could definitely see how it could hurt smaller brewhouses too. It’s an interesting argument that, in the end, the people might get to vote on. According to the Durango Herald, proponents and Your Choice Colorado are working through the state process to approve language for a petition. If approved, proponents would need 98,492 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Until then, the forecast for ugliness along the way looks promising.
“This (ballot initiative) is going to be a nasty fight,” said Sen. Owen Hill R-Colorado Springs, who has been working on the bill. “We have a duty to the people of Colorado to try and solve this problem in a way that benefits everyone.”
But the opposition side of the initiative does not appear eager to compromise. Mike Rich, owner of Wagon Wheel Liquors in Durango, said the current system has empowered craft brewers and distillers to grow, which has also helped his business.