Colorado grocery and convenience stores prepare for the end of '3.2' beer Jan. 1
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Colorado grocery and convenience stores prepare for the end of ‘3.2’ beer Tuesday.

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Grocery shelves stocked with full-strength beer will greet Coloradans for the first time Tuesday, making low-alcohol “near beer” obsolete.

Since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Colorado has banned sales of full-strength beer outside liquor stores, with only a few exceptions. Only “near beer,” with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight, could be sold by grocers and others. But lawmakers finally approved such sales in 2016, and guidelines for them were set in May in Senate Bill 243.

Stores can begin stocking the beer at midnight Monday, then start selling it eight hours later. It can only be sold between 8 a.m. and midnight.

So 2019 will be “a year of change and disruption in the market,” said Chris Wright, founder and head brewer at Pikes Peak Brewing, whose beer will be in Safeway and King Soopers stores from Pueblo to Castle Rock.

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“We’ve never seen a change like this in a very well-developed and mature beer market, so we really are not sure what’s going to occur,” Wright said. “We’re just kind of holding our breath and doing the best we can to figure things out.”

The biggest challenge was dealing with chain stores instead of small, independently owned liquor stores — and “just fighting to make sure that our brand was on the shelf when the conversion happened,” he said.

At Safeway, “We’ve been working with other retailers around the state for the past 10 years to change the liquor laws to allow us to sell full-strength beer,” said regional spokeswoman Kris Staaf. “So we are really excited to roll out these products on Jan. 1.

“Our plan is really to be hyper-local. We want to make sure that we’re supporting local breweries in communities where we have stores,” Staaf said. “So you’re going to see a nice product mix, but it’s really going to vary from store to store and market to market.

“We see a real opportunity with Colorado craft. It’s something that our customers have been asking for for a long time. And so to be able to work with large brewers, small brewers and really everything in between and to bring that variety and selection of Colorado craft to the customer, it’s a big deal.”

Safeways in the Colorado Springs area will sell beer from Bristol Brewing, Pikes Peak Brewing and Red Leg Brewing Co.

“We’ve got 100 stores in Colorado, 12 in Colorado Springs, so it’s a massive undertaking, but something that we’re really excited about,” she said.

King Soopers did not specify which beers it will sell in the Pikes Peak region. But each store “will reflect the unique neighborhoods and their buying preferences,” said regional spokesman Adam Williamson.

But unlike grocers, not all local brewers are excited about the change.

Travis Fields, co-owner of FH Beerworks, said grocery stores aren’t likely to buy from small, self-distributed breweries like his. And to make it onto grocery store shelves, he said, many small breweries would have to strain to supply enough beer.

“I don’t think we’re going to see an effect (on breweries) immediately,” Fields said. “What I can see happening is: Liquor stores depend on domestic and import sales as a big chunk of their revenue, and so it’s not the craft beer consumers that are going to affect liquor stores. It’s all the domestics and imports that are now being bought at grocery stores, which will eventually put a lot of liquor stores out of business.

“That’s where it’s going to hurt small breweries like me, because right now, (my beer) can go into all those stores. But the more of those stores close because they aren’t selling enough Coors Light, the less options there are for me to distribute to.

“If I can help it, I’m going to stay out of grocery stores entirely. I don’t know what kind of capital investment it would take to actually get to the size where I could even supply those grocery stores, anyway.”

FH Beerworks is opening a second location, but it won’t be big enough to provide beer for grocery chains, he said.

“We were a little hesitant to make this jump just because of this new law coming in, but we decided to go ahead and do it, and we’ll figure it out.”

For more information about the new laws, visit the state Department of Revenue’s website at colorado.gov/pacific/enforcement/liquor-sb16-197-sb18-243.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly defined "3.2 beer." The "near beer" is 3.2 percent alcohol by weight.

Ellie is a crime and breaking news reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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