The Beating is Sure to Resume

Published on: March 17th, 2011

Craft brewers and liquor stores are girding for yet another battle at the state legislature with the big-dollar lobbyists paid for from the deep pockets of the national grocery chains.

Yes, the Safeways of the world say they look out for you by twisting arms and throwing money at elected officials to get them to allow full-strength beer, wine and booze sales in their stores. And on the surface it may sound great; you can grab a bottle of Sutter Home merlot to go with your frozen dinner and be on your way. But if you think you’ll get to choose from more than mainstream brands—let alone craft-brewed, fermented or distilled gems made locally—you would be wrong.

“I carry almost 1,000 beers in my store; how many do you think Safeway or 7-Eleven will carry?” said Jim Dean, managing partner of Total Beverage at 92nd and Sheridan in Westminster.

It’s not just quality and selection that get kicked in the shins. Jobs would be incinerated and many say we can expect underage drinking to rise.

“States that have beer, wine and liquor in grocery and convenience stores have higher incidence(s) of underage drinking,” Dean said. “The grocery stores don’t just want to sell it, they want 18-year-olds to sell it and 16- and 17-year-olds to handle it. When you put (alcohol) out there next to the Cheerios, there’s no control.”

Probably the biggest hit would be jobs. There are roughly 1,700 liquor stores in the state of Colorado and about the same number of grocery and convenience stores. In nearly every shopping center where there’s a grocery store, there’s a liquor store, too. Once booze goes in the big chains, the independent retailer selling wine and beer next door is toast.

The impact is felt up the line. Independent brewers and distillers don’t have the national distribution systems Target and Safeway rely on for stock. So the big boys won’t be carrying the local craft beer and spirits that used to get sold at the mom and pop liquor stores. So local producers’ sales go down and they’ll look at shrinking their workforce as a result.

The fight hasn’t started yet, but it’s still early in the legislative session. As of this writing, our elected officials were working on Senate Bill 60, which would allow low-alcohol beer and wine (less than 4 percent) to be sold in restaurants and bars. It is expected to pass.

As for the war on alcohol sales in grocery and convenience stores, that battle has been waged every year for the past four years, and each time the measure gets closer to passing. Those of us who value our local brewers, distillers and vintners can only hope that the Democrat-controlled Senate, along with former craft-brewer-turned-Governor John Hickenlooper, will keep the money grubbing greed heads at bay.

“Sometimes you’re better off just leaving things alone,” Dean said. “For the guy who buys Bud Light or Yellow Tail wine, he isn’t going to care. But for people who buy craft brews, which are 52 percent of my sales, that’s the guy who’s going to lose out.”

Six days a week

Boulder Beer’s tap room (pictured) at 2880 Wilderness Place, just off Valmont, will be open from noon to 8pm Saturdays starting in April. They’ll have their full pub menu, $3 pints for the 3–7pm happy hour and look for a smothered breakfast burrito on Saturday’s menu to help soothe your aching Friday night head. For their first Saturday, April 2, they’ll have live music on the patio.

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