DENVER | About a dozen craft brewers and a smattering of liquor store owners from across Colorado gathered at Denver’s Ale House at Amato’s Wednesday afternoon, May 27, marking one of the first public displays of support against a possible 2016 ballot initiative.
Under the moniker Keep Colorado Local, the Front Range beer masters were rallying in opposition to potential changes to state liquor laws. The group tapped the first-ever batch of Keep Colorado LocALE, a new beer made from Colorado-grown ingredients intended to act as a conversational launch pad for bartenders and patrons. Nearly a dozen regional breweries will be serving the beer in their taprooms in the coming months, and the recipe will later be shared with other Colorado suds slingers in hope of widening the scope of dialogue.
At issue is whether grocery and convenience stores should be allowed to sell full-strength beer and liquor. Currently, grocery stores in Colorado cannot sell beer that contains more than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume and franchise liquor licenses aren’t permitted for grocery and conveniences stores, though franchises are allowed one full-strength alcohol outpost in the state.
“Only the future will tell, but it could definitely put us in a precarious situation and, I think, a lot of breweries (as well),” said Tim Evon, head brewer at Dry Dock Brewing Company’s South Dock in Aurora.
Proponents of a change toward allowing harder beverages in retail outlets argue that the current laws are decades old and that consumers should have more of a choice in regards to where they can purchase full-strength booze. Opponents — largely made up of professionals in the brewing, distilling and liquor distribution industries —argue that changing the law will largely wipe out the state’s independent liquor stores, which could decimate Colorado’s craft beer industry.
“It would be completely devastating to my business,” said Carolyn Joy, owner of Joy Wine and Spirits on East Sixth Avenue and Marion Street in Denver. “We wouldn’t be able to have the variety we’d like, and distribution would be disrupted for sure.”
This is not the first time this topic has reared its head, however, as several attempts to change current liquor laws have been made at the state Capitol in recent years. Each attempt was snuffed, so grocery executives are aiming to get the question on the 2016 general election ballot.
“The liquor stores, of course, love the Prohibition-era laws that give them a monopoly, and there’s no amount of silly spin and gimmickry they won’t use to protect it at the expense of Colorado consumers,” said Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Colorado Consumers for Choice, the organization vying to get the issue into the hands of Colorado voters. “We congratulate the liquor store monopolies on the launch of their new beer. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pick it up while you’re shopping for dinner? When this debate runs its course, we believe Colorado beer and wine consumers will have exactly that choice, the same choice that consumers already have in 45 other craft-brew-loving states.”
There are currently just under 300 breweries and 1,600 independent liquor stores in the state, according to Keep Colorado Local. The coalition kicked off its opposition effort with a meeting at Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver on March 19.
“If you were trying to define the exact opposite of a monopoly, you’d only have to look at Colorado’s current liquor system with nearly 1,600 independent businesses competing against each other,” Denise Baron, spokeswoman and organizer with Keep Colorado Local said in response to Coolidge’s comments. “We have a level playing field that allows each person to own one liquor store. That means anyone from the mom-and-pop store around the corner to Wal-mart have the same opportunity.”
In order to make the ballot, Colorado Consumers for Choice must file a petition with at least 98,492 verified signatures with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office by Aug. 8, 2016. The organization’s Facebook page had more than 43,000 likes as of May 27.