Brew battle hits full-strength mark in Colorado |

Brew battle hits full-strength mark in Colorado

Jessica Fender
The Denver Post

Just because you bought that six-pack at a liquor store doesn’t mean it’s full-strength beer.

Tests of 14 light-beer brands show some liquor stores are selling low-alcohol suds, possibly in violation of state law.

The tests are the latest volley in a battle between grocery- and convenience-store owners ” who want to sell full-strength beer and who paid for the lab tests ” and liquor-store owners trying to block their efforts.

Of the 14 beers tested, half clocked in at 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or less, two contract labs found. Three of those ” Beck’s Light, Heineken Light and Sam Adams Light ” also failed to rise above the threshold of 4 percent alcohol by volume, which should have barred them from liquor-store shelves.

Both sides agree that alcohol content can vary from batch to batch, and so what barely misses the 3.2 mark one month could exceed it the next. But shops are either permitted to sell full-strength beer, liquor and wine or low-alcohol beer. Not both.

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If the lines between full- and low-alcohol beer are blurred, then it’s unfair to limit what grocers and convenience stores can sell, said Dave Reitz, convenience-store lobbyist and former director of liquor enforcement for the state.

Grocers and corner stores are the only ones that should be selling light beer, he said.

But liquor-store advocate Jeanne McEvoy said her opponents are trying to confuse the issue. She paints a picture of 18-year-old grocery-store clerks selling 24 percent beer should pending beer legislation pass.

House Bill 1192, which is expected in committee this week, would convert all low-alcohol beer licenses to full-beer licenses.

Liquor stores are responsible for what lands on their shelves and can face warnings and penalties up to license revocation for repeated violations, said Mark Couch, spokesman for the Department of Revenue, which oversees liquor enforcement.

In the past year, one complaint of wrongfully shelved

low-alcohol beer was received, and no citations were issued. Liquor agents pay closer attention to public safety issues, Couch said.

“Wrong products on store shelves does not quite match making sure children aren’t being sold alcohol,” he said.

Unlike 3.2 beer, full-strength beer isn’t required to carry a stamp declaring its alcohol content. And even if a beer is low-alcohol, grocery stores can’t carry it unless it’s stamped. McEvoy, head of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said if her political opponents are worried about access to light beer, they should ask brewers to stamp more of their products.

“There’s nothing that has stopped them from picking up the phone and saying, ‘By the way, I want to sell Beck’s Light,’ ” McEvoy said. “This legislation does nothing to solve their problem. They’re knocking on the wrong door.”

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