Utah is one of the last states with “3.2 beer,” a remnant of post-Prohibition restrictions.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated November 13, 2018
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If you don’t know what "3.2 beer" is, consider yourself lucky. An odd vestige of Prohibition, 3.2 percent alcohol by weight beer (which comes out to about 4 percent alcohol by volume, the more commonly seen measurement) was meant to be a lower strength beer to help transition people out of their alcohol-free days without allowing them to get absolutely blasted. And yet, some states have kept restrictions on selling beer over 3.2 ABW to this day. The number has continued to diminish over the years — once Colorado and Kansas ditch their 3.2 laws next year, only Utah and Minnesota will still have 3.2 regulations on the books — but according to The Salt Lake Tribune, not only is Utah still planning to keep its 3.2 rules, the state appears to be doubling down on them by requiring all breweries that want to sell 3.2 beers to have them officially tested to prove they aren’t stronger than they say.

Just to backtrack a second, beer over 3.2 ABW is allowed to be sold and produced in Utah. However, selling those beers requires a special license, and for retail purposes, stronger beers must be sold in liquor stores. But beer sold in places like grocery and convenience stores must fit the 3.2 restriction. In the past, Utah might test these beers if there were questions over how strong they were. But now, the plan is that everything has to be tested before it hits shelves. If the beer comes back too strong, the brewery doesn’t face any penalties, they simply won’t be allowed to sell it. "It’s not really an inconvenience for the brewers to send a sample," Nicole Dicou, executive director of the Utah Brewers Guild, told the Tribune, "but it is another hoop to jump through."

Even the national craft beer trade group, the Brewers Association (BA), has come out against Utah’s decision. "I am unfamiliar with any other beverage control entity requiring testing of a certain class of products," Paul Gatza, the BA’s director, was quoted as saying. "This is something that would not fly in many states, as it puts an undue burden on the smallest breweries that have the least amount of sales."

So why is Utah making this decision? Well, the Tribune speculates that the continued downfall of 3.2 beer might actually be the culprit. Since Utah and Minnesota will eventually be the only two states that require 3.2 beer, major producers like Anheuser-Busch have said they may stop making as much of the stuff. As a result, the Utah Brewers Association reportedly suggested that maybe local breweries could fill the void. "Could that be what prompted the DABC’s new testing requirement?" the Tribune’s Kathy Stephenson asks, before answering, "No one is saying."