Full-strength Beer and Wine: Why Aren’t They in My Local Grocery Store?

Last July, the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division published this information:

“The boom of the alcohol industry in Colorado is quite evident. In the last three years, the number of manufacturer breweries has more than tripled; from 60 to 182. During the same time, the number of distilleries has gone from 33 to 70; over double.”

Yet even though Colorado is one of the top states in the nation when it comes to craft and micro brews — just take a look at how breweries have sprung up like summer dandelions in Denver, Boulder, and the surrounding areas — the laws around selling beer higher than 3.2% alcohol by weight in grocery stores is still in effect. Why?

Prohibition. That’s where it all started.

Here’s a mini refresher: in 1933, Congress voted to repeal Prohibition. (FDR actually campaigned on the importance of alcohol to our nation, and vowed to end Prohibition if he were elected.) In 1935, the Colorado General Assembly enacted the state’s liquor code, underlining the difference between “non-intoxicating” 3.2% beer and other types of alcohol. Private liquor stores were allowed to sell only alcohol, no food, and grocery stores could sell beer only if it was 3.2% alcohol by weight.

The part that doesn’t really make sense is that this law is still in effect in Colorado, while a whopping 42 of the states in the union sell “real” beer and wine in grocery stores.

Since the U.S. is the second highest producer of beer and the third highest of wine in the world, those beverages are crucial when it comes to our economy.

Your Choice Colorado, a coalition backed by King Soopers, Safeway, and Walmart, is drafting a ballot that will allow Colorado voters to decide if they should be able to pick up full-strength beer and wine at the same place they buy their roast chicken and salad fixings.

Hard liquor sales will remain unique to liquor stores.

“The customer is changing, and we have to change with the customer,” said Kelli McGannon, a spokeswoman for King Soopers, the Colorado-based division of Kroger Co. “Our customers value time as much as money and are looking for convenience. Colorado’s market has changed — Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and people are moving here from other states where this is something they had.”

One of every store in a retail chain per state can have a full liquor license, which is why you can’t buy wine in Trader Joe’s in Boulder but you can in Denver.

Liquor store owners, who have traditionally opposed changing this law, say that they will be hard hit if it goes through, as their sales will be negatively impacted. We’ll see if the ability to put a bottle of Sauvignon in the same cart with your fruit and veggies will trump tradition when it goes to a vote.

If you need legal help, don’t hesitate to contact me at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

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