The Surprise Consequences Of Lobbying: Colorado Bans Low-Alcohol Beer In Bars

December 7, 2010 7:06 a.m.

In January, Colorado will begin enforcing a law that forbids bars, restaurants and liquor stores from selling low-alcohol beer — usually low-calorie beer like Michelob Ultra, Heineken Light and others. Even Guinness may qualify as low-alcohol and be booted from Irish pubs. How did this happen?

In Colorado, convenience and grocery stores can only sell low-alcohol beer. Bars, restaurants and liquor stores can sell full-strength beer, plus wine and liquor. It’s a two-tier system that was designed in order to keep full-strength beer away from fake-ID-toting minors who frequent convenience stores.Convenience and grocery stores have been fighting the system for years and repeatedly failing. Multiple bills failed in committee just this spring. The fight has been contentious. At one committee hearing in 2009, more than 90 people signed up to testify.

This spring was the third defeat in three years for the convenience stores. So this year, according to the Denver Post, convenience store lobbyists decided that if you can’t join them, beat them. In other words, the lobbied to get the state to start cracking down on liquor stores and bars that sell low-alcohol beer in violation of the tiered system. Friendly lawmakers acquiesced, and amended a bill that will even out the enforcement of the two-tier system on the liquor store and bar side of the divide.

“Either stop selling the product we sell, or let’s stop having this false delineation on beer,” Jason Hopfer, a lobbyist for a group of convenience stores, told the Post. “Let’s let beer be beer.”

Liquor stores and bars have been selling low-alcohol beers all along, and according to the state liquor enforcer Laura Harris, the state has never reprimanded any of them,

But, starting in January, the state will have beermakers certify the alcohol content of their brews and put the information in a database, so all beer purveyors will know which beers they are and aren’t allowed to sell.

As for the next legislative session, convenience stores — and their lobbyists — are expected to push for full-strength beer-selling privileges for the fourth year in a row.

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