Last year’s legislative session saw a barroom brawl between craft brewers and the liquor stores that sell their suds and the big corporate grocery chains that want to be one-stop shops. The question of whether to allow supermarkets to sell liquor, wine and beer was narrowly defeated last year. Temporarily beaten back, the grocery stores threatened to return this year with more heavily funded lobbyists intent on seeing the law changed.
But bone-deep budget cuts and Colorado’s own economic first aid may keep lawmakers too busy during this session to revisit the issue.
“I would hope they would focus on the financial crisis that’s staring us in the face and the impact that’s having on schools instead of our esoteric personal adult beverage laws,” said Eric Wallace, owner of Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing Co., Colorado Brewers Guild president and chair of the guild’s legislative committee.
Mary Lou Chapman, Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association president and author of 2009’s unsuccessful booze bill, agreed.
“This legislature doesn’t have the stomach to change the law,” she said. “They’ll probably wait until there’s a new group of legislators.”
In the meantime, look for new twists to the old grocery booze bill. Namely, Wallace says, is the idea of limiting the number of liquor sales licenses. In effect, a grocery store would have to purchase an existing license—as opposed to applying for a new one—in order to sell alcohol. Mom and pop shops could sell their license (and close up shop) but see a payday in the process; as much as $100,000. Wallace doesn’t have details about the proposal, so he can’t say whether or not he would support such a measure. At the least, he said it shouldn’t leave independent convenience stores hung out to dry.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the grocery booze initiative is the survival of liquor stores and the economic impact on craft brewers. If big chains are allowed to sell alcohol, the limited shelf space will go to the mainstream brands that supply their product to big grocery chains at fire sale prices. In addition to selection suffering, the nearby liquor stores will feel the pinch when shoppers pick up their beer and vodka with their eggs and milk. Less business at the liquor stores and fewer sales for the craft breweries translates ultimately into lost jobs for both; hardly the kind of economic stimulus you want in times like this.
Finally, there’s the hypocrisy of it. Groceries want to sell booze, but they lobby like hell to keep liquor stores from selling anything other than pork rinds and potato chips. That’s why you can’t pick up even an orange at a liquor store. Colorado has a thriving craft-brewing industry because of the way our liquor laws are constructed. We screw around with that successful arrangement at our own peril.
Black Sun Rising
It’s that time of year when the taps at Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery go dark. Literally. February is Stout month, the time of year to which beer connoisseurs have been looking forward for the past 17 years. And this year, the goodness has spread from the original Pearl Street location in Boulder to the Southern Sun at the Table Mesa Shopping Center in South Boulder and Vine Street Pub in Denver. Taps of other styles will give way to the black-as-night goodness, including three offerings—Belgian Dip Chocolate Stout, Korova Cream Stout and Old School Irish Stout—under nitrogen gas, which imparts the ultra-fine bubbles and cascading head á la Guinness.
The other stouts on tap will include Yonder Mountain, Thunder Head, Cherry Dip, a rich chocolate stout with sweet cherry puree added, and Trickster Stout for the hopheads out there. There will also be three imperial stouts: the Usurper, the Nihilist and, new this year, the Coffee Imperial Stout. The month will also include a stout homebrew competition—the winner of which will get to help brew their winning recipe—and several other events (info at mountainsunpub.com).