Proposal to change beer sale law draws fire

Matt Schnepfe slides six packs of Odell’s Mountain Standard and Lugene beer into the racks of the craft beer section from the cooler side at Fisher’s Liquor Barn.

DENVER — Some lawmakers are trying once again to open up beer sales in Colorado, and some beer sellers in the state aren’t happy about it.

Under a measure introduced last week, grocery and convenience stores would be able to sell so-called craft beers.

Thing is, the craft brewers don’t want to sell their product in those establishments.

“There are about a million reasons why,” said Eric Ross, co-owner and general manager of Kannah Creek Brewing Co., 1960 N. 12th St., in Grand Junction. “We’ve got great relationships with the individual liquor store owners here. There’s a real kinship there, and we feel like this would threaten that.

“There are 160-plus breweries in Colorado right now with another 50 coming on board. There’s something that’s going well (in the industry) and it’s those relationships that are not only good for the breweries, but the liquor stores, and most importantly, the customer.”

Ross also is concerned that the way the measure, HB1178, is written, it isn’t really about helping boost sales for small-time craft brewers, as its backers claim.

The measure defines a “craft brewer” as someone who brews not more than 6 million barrels a year.

Ross said that’s an outrageous amount. His brewery, for example, produces about 1,000 barrels a year.

“They’re just going to open the door for Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors to be in grocery stores,” Ross said. “Once their foot’s in the door, it’s all over. Now we’ve taken money out of the local economy, we’ve destroyed local business and we’ve reduced the amount of selection that’s available to the customer. That doesn’t make sense.”

Ross said the measure has the potential to take away at least 25 percent of beer sales from liquor stores, and that could lead to layoffs for the stores.

Brandi Fisher-Pollock, owner of Fisher’s Liquor Barn, 2438 F Road, said grocery and convenience stores won’t need to hire new workers to handle the additional product, but liquor stores will end up laying off employees because they will see a decrease in sales.

Fisher-Pollock wondered how that will boost jobs and the economy in the state.

“If this happens, how many jobs will I have to cut here because of the loss in sales?” she asked. “We have buyers and distributors who are in (the liquor store) 20 to 30 hours a week, too. Those jobs would be cut as well because the buying won’t go on here, it will be done at the corporate level. There’s another 20 or 30 jobs, and that’s just right here in Grand Junction.”

Rep. Kevin Priola, who introduced the bill, said he isn’t buying any of those arguments.

The Henderson Republican said that while liquor stores may lose some business, it won’t amount to much, and craft brewers will see greatly increased sales at the same time.

“What’s really happening here, what’s probably in the back of the minds of the craft-beer folks is they think they make more money selling to individual liquor store owners than they would selling to companies that have more volume,” Priola said. “They’re afraid of margins. If you sell 10 units and make $100 per unit, or sell a million units and make one-tenth of one cent, where would you rather be?”

Priola said he got the 6-million-barrel cap number from the craft brewers’ own website, But according to the Colorado Brewery Guild, all craft brewers in the state produce about one million barrels a year combined.

The cap was changed last year from 2 million to accommodate Samuel Adams Brewery, the so-called father of craft beers, which surpassed that mark in its 2010 sales, according to the Brewers Association.

Priola also said that he’s done “solid research” on the matter, adding that other states he’s looked at that made similar changes in their liquor laws didn’t result in a decrease in the number of liquor stores.

“Other states where you can walk into a grocery store and buy anything — spirits, wine and beer — and there are still numerous liquor stores, almost on par with Colorado,” he said. “In one case, I compared the number of liquor stores in Grand Junction to the number of liquor stores in Barstow, Calif., which is roughly the same size, demographic desert community, and I think Barstow had more liquor stores than Grand Junction.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Business & Labor Committee, but a hearing date has not yet been set.


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