Ale with Altitude column: Colorado’s liquor laws are good for brewers
Ryan Summerlin March 20, 2012
Colorado has a unique system for regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages, as does every state. Each state gets to make its own rules, thanks to the 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition. In Colorado, grocery stores and convenience stores can sell 3.2 beer (3.2 percent alcohol), but only liquor stores can sell full strength beer. Each person, including chain stores, is allowed to have only one liquor store license. The unexpected, yet pleasant, result of this structure is that it has helped foster one of the most competitive and vibrant craft brewing scenes in the country. This is because even the smallest brewery can go into a liquor store, speak to the buyer and have a fair shot at getting their beer on the shelf. Chain stores are not structured to support this set up, which makes this effort much more complex. Chain stores continue to try and pass legislation to change the system, but craft brewers are opposed because changing the existing system would endanger these Colorado brewery success stories, reduce the variety of beer available to craft beer drinkers and ultimately lead to higher prices as the chains run locally-owned liquor stores out of business.Colorado’s regulatory structure creates a highly competitive, albeit regulated market, not an oligopoly like in many chain-driven states. This provides Colorado brewers with great access to the marketplace and Colorado beer lovers with access to a great selection at reasonable prices. If Colorado liquor laws changed, an oligopoly would form, the market would contract, prices would rise and Colorado beer lovers would lose. The craft beer they love may not be stocked on the shelf of an out-of-state owned grocer. Why? Because the grocery focuses floor space on brands that it knows will sell at high volumes. National chains tend to focus on national brands and from our collective experience, they are less interested in local flavor.Our competitive beer market forces Colorado retailers to offer a wide selection at a fair price. No single player can dominate the market because each has only one license. This structure ensures an equal playing field, which is good for brewers, better for beer lovers, great for job creation, and beneficial for the Colorado economy. With 146 Colorado craft brewers and nine more on the way, Colorado leads the nation in the spirit of entrepreneurship. Let’s keep the Colorado system of alcohol regulation intact and functioning. To do otherwise would be foolish, bad for business, and bad for Colorado.Eric Wallace a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, lives in Longmont, is the founder and owner of Left Hand Brewing Company and is the past-president of the Colorado Brewers Guild. Ale with Altitude is a monthly column from a brewmaster participating in a craft beer event at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa hotel in Vail. Visit www.vailcascade.com to learn more.