3.2 beer phase out: Anheuser-Busch warns they could go from 20 brands to 12 in some states

UTAH -- Lighter beers may soon be harder to find in some states out west, as big breweries phase them out.

"Starting probably early to mid 2018, you're going to see many of the products in the grocery and convenience stores today will begin to disappear," Jim Olsen with the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association said.

Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas are ending the sale of 3.2 beer in their states. That's beer with no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Major breweries have put Utah officials on notice.

FOX6's sister station KSTU obtained a letter from Anheuser-Busch telling wholesalers that with more than 60 percent of 3.2 beer being eliminated by those states, Utah will become the nation's largest consumer, and that's only one-half of a percent.

Anheuser-Busch officials warned they could go from 20 brands to 12 on store shelves.

"Miller-Coors is telling me basically the same thing that Anheuser-Busch has been stating. They're looking at it and there will be some reductions in the number of products they produce," Olsen said.

The Utah Legislature is contemplating moving higher-point beers out of state-run liquor stores and into grocery and convenience stores. It requires a law change. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) says it cannot handle the increase of customers, but the chairman of Utah's Liquor Control Commission thinks local brewers could benefit.

"I think it's a boon to the craft beer industry in Utah. Fill that void -- and they can do it very well, but that's entirely up to the legislature if they want to give more leeway for heavy beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores in Utah. I just don't know what they're going to do," John Nielsen, DABC Commission chairman said.

The head of the Beer Wholesalers Association said even in a state that doesn't have that many drinkers -- local breweries can't handle it.

"When you're talking 32 million gallons of beer sold in Utah, the craft brewers just don't have the capacity or physical facilities to produce that kind of volume," Olsen said.

So what are Utah lawmakers going to do? Maybe not much after last year's alcohol bill that tore down "zion curtains" -- partitions unique to Utah restaurants that separated restaurant bartenders preparing alcoholic drinks from the customers who order them.

"We ran a big alcohol bill last year. I don't think the decision's been made yet to see if we can open a bill file to push the heavier beers," State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton said.

They've got to make a decision soon. Anheuser-Busch officials said Oklahoma phases out 3.2 beer in October of 2018.

"That's very possible it may not be handled this year, and yet, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to push this until we have a let's call it, violent market reaction to not having products on the shelf," Stevenson said.