SALT LAKE CITY — For the seventh consecutive year, Utah residents drank more beer, wine and flavored alcoholic beverages, newly released state figures show.
The state's total liquor sales came to nearly $347 million in fiscal 2013 — up 7.7 percent from the previous year and more than double sales in 2003, data from Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control show.
It's not just population growth that is driving up sales: residents drank an average of 2.6 gallons of liquor in 2013, up slightly from the year before and significantly more than the 1.85 gallons per capita in 2003. The state's fiscal year ended on June 30.
The figures take into account sales of all alcohol except beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores. The agency operates the state's 44 liquor stores and more than 100 smaller outlets in hotels, resorts and small towns.
Wine continues to be the most popular type of alcohol, but the state saw a big jump last year in sales of flavored malt beverages that include alcoholic drinks that taste like lemonade, cherry or iced teas. The number of gallons sold of these types of drinks was up more than 20 percent from last year.
That growth is likely from new products on the market, such as the "Bud Light Lime-A-Rita," said Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control spokeswoman Vickie Ashby. The flavored alcohol beverage was the state's top selling malt beverage over the past year, registering more than $558,000 in sales, according to another DABC report released last month.
Sales of wine, heavy beer and spirits all grew by less than 5 percent in 2013, the report shows.
Bolstered by a recovering economy, Utah is following the national trend of people seeking out craft beers with rich flavors and more hops and malt, said Amy Coady, director of marketing for Salt Lake Brewing Company, which brews and sells Squatters and Wasatch beers.
"You can get a beautiful six-pack of craft beer for $8.99, and it's a real treat," Coady said. "It's not like buying a Lexus or a pair of shoes, but it's an inexpensive luxury."
The Squatters' Hop Rising IPA was third-most sold heavy beer in 2013, trailing only Stella Artois and Icehouse Beer, state figures show.
Del Vance, owner of the Beerhive Pub in Salt Lake City, said he's seen steady growth in five years of business driven by an increasing demand for craft beers. He said the traditional beers such as Budweiser and Miller have been replaced by locally-brewed crafts, such as India Pale Ales.
"People have discovered how good beer can really be," Vance said. "In the past, all the beers really tasted the same."
He said the improving economy might have driven up sales a bit, but added that the old adage in the liquor business is that people drink both to drown their sorrows as well as celebrate their good fortune.
Utah is one of 17 states that control the sale of alcoholic beverages.
The state's famously strict liquor laws are rooted in a widely held belief in Utah that loosening the rules to be more in line with other states could lead to more underage drinking and drunk driving.
The majority of Utah legislators and residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol. About two-thirds of the 2.8 million people living in Utah are estimated to be members of the LDS church, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Every year, liquor sales generate a significant amount of money for the state's general fund, Ashby said. This year, more than $81 million in net profits went to the state's general fund. Utah also collected more than $56 million in taxes from liquor sales, almost $4 million more than in 2012.
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this story.
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