In a few days, Colorado’s loneliest grocery store aisles no longer will be haunted by the ghosts of liquor laws past.
Say your goodbyes to “3.2” beers, those low-alcohol suds that helped gentle the post-Prohibition population back into big libations and, until the repeal of the state’s “blue laws” in 2008, were the only packaged beers you could buy on a Sunday.
Sweeping changes to the state’s 80-year-old alcohol laws take effect Jan. 1, when grocery stores will start selling full-strength beer.
Distributors stopped delivering the 3.2 ABV varieties this month, and most stores already have cleared coolers to make way for stronger stock.
Last call for “near beers” is truly upon us, and I, for one, won’t be shedding any tears in my real one about it.
In truth, such suds might have gone forever untasted by me had I not allowed my father to embark, unprepared, on a grocery store and beer run during my folks’ visit this year.
Being from West Virginia, where grocery store beer is the same beer you’d get anywhere else, Dad didn’t understand that such a shopping list (from his craft beer-drinking daughter) required visiting two locations in Colorado Springs.
When he returned from Safeway with a 12-pack of Fat Tire Amber Ale, I had to break the news.
“That’s sneaky,” said Dad, who ended up having no complaints about the beer, pronouncing it “actually not bad,” which from him is pretty high praise.
After my parents left town, I promptly dealt with the remaining bottles of Fat Tire, mostly to make room in the fridge for beers I actually like. Sure, it was drinkable. But, good? Can water with calories be good?
Being delicious was never really part of their job description, though.
Mark Robbins hasn’t indulged in 3.2 beer in decades (though he came close once, by accident), but the 67-year-old admits it was his drink of choice when the choices were few.
“You had to be 21 to buy full-strength beer. But when you were 18, you could do 3.2 beer, and there were a bunch of 3.2 bars. Most people turned 18 their senior year of high school, so it was pretty good timing,” said Robbins, who is from the Springs and went to college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“It was a huge part of the social scene at the time, for the 18 to 21 crowd. It was the great equalizer.”
Back when Robbins was frequenting the area’s 3.2 bars, including Giuseppe’s many popular outposts, the topic of beer quality, or lack thereof, didn’t come up. And despite his grown-up affinity for craft suds, Robbins maintains fond memories of those near-beer years.
“I’ve heard all my life that 3.2 beer, you couldn’t get drunk on it, it tasted terrible, it was kind of a second-class citizen,” he said.
“But I’ve never really found a difference in the taste, and I can tell you from personal experience, yes, you can get drunk off it.”
In 1987, the state’s legal drinking age for all alcoholic beverages, no matter their potency, was raised to 21. It took a while to play out, but Robbins figures the death knell for 3.2 beer was that loss of a niche in coming-of-age culture.
“Once you turned 21, the 3.2 scene was pretty much over with,” he said. “And since you have to be 21 to buy any beer now, I never really understood why people would go to a grocery store and buy 3.2 when they could buy the real thing elsewhere ... (unless) they’re from out of town and don’t know what they’re buying.”
But is he bummed to see it banished to the great beer fest tent in the sky?
“I’m sad in the nostalgia kind of way because it was a period in my history that made quite an impression on me,” Robbins said.
“I won’t miss the beer. I’ll miss what it represented in my life.”