Becca Peterson of MillerCoors stocks the cooler at Safeway

Becca Peterson of MillerCoors stocks the cooler at the Safeway on South Nevada Avenue with full-strength beer Jan. 1 as Colorado grocery stores transition from 3.2 percent beer to full-strength beer.

Last month I issued a snarky dirge for 3.2 beer, as the eternal hangover loomed for the low-def suds that — once upon a time, in the murk of our collective past, up until a few weeks ago — were all you could buy in pretty much any convenience or grocery store in Colorado.

In retrospect, that was grossly insensitive and I apologize. I don’t happen to be one of them, but there were/are fans of near beer, and they are in mourning.

Of course they are. How would you feel if all your favorite beers suddenly disappeared from shelves forever? It’s a question I ponder every time I watch a post-apocalyptic movie.

If it happened to me, I’d probably start out in hopeful disbelief. Something like:

“Please, please tell me there is somewhere in the Springs we can continue to buy our ‘go to’ near beer. Otherwise it’ll be ice cubes in our beer!” wrote Dusty Burns in an email responding to my “depressing” column about the Jan. 1 liquor law change.

Burns moved to the Springs from lower altitudes and quickly found that full-strength beers consumed on high were too potent — “One for me and two for him and we were ‘under the table’!”

Unfortunately for Burns and fellow 3.2ers, enjoying their old go-tos today most likely will require a road trip out of state. Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing Co., for one, no longer makes its modified version of Fat Tire Amber Ale, the 3.2 market’s only (official) near “craft” beer, for distribution in its home state, brewery spokesperson Jesse Claeys said.

“The only place they’re still available is Utah, and a couple outliers, really small pockets, along the state line,” Claeys said. “That’s kind of a niche ask — people looking for the same flavor effect at a lower ABV.”

But say you’re indeed such an asker, with a limited travel budget. Maybe, for you, it’s more about effect than taste. Before you turn to dilution as a solution, consider that 3.2 beers got their numerical nickname from alcohol content by weight. Their potency in the more familiar language of “alcohol by volume” rings in slightly higher, at around 4 percent, putting them in the neighborhood of widely available session styles, as well as seasonals and flagships that fall on the milder end of the buzz spectrum.

Bristol Brewing Co’s Beehive Honey Wheat, for example, is 4.4 percent ABV. Full-strength Bud Light is 4.2. Clarity, sans cubes.

But back to that beer-pocalypse scenario:

Should I ever come face to face with an impending end of daze, I hope I’d respond like Springs 3.2-aficionado Ricky Sherwood, who heeded the auguries and therefore was prepared.

“At the end they were having 50-percent off sales, so I bought ‘em all up,” said Sherwood, who estimates he amassed enough of the discontinued, deeply discounted suds to carry him through the breakup.

By the time he runs out, he figures he’ll have honed his homebrewing skills and, when he gets thirsty, can turn to his own versions of those old commercial faves — subtle suds for people who “like drinking beer but aren’t looking to get bombed every night.”

“I’ve looked into it … and learned that you can design a beer for whatever alcohol content you want,” Sherwood said. “It’s all a matter of how much sugar you use.”


Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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