Adult Utahns who enjoy so-called "alco-pops," like Mike's Hard Lemonade, may well see those beverages eliminated from the state, several legislators said Tuesday.
The sweet-flavored, malt-based beverages are currently sold chilled in grocery stores, along with 3.2 percent beer.
But Dennis Kellen, head of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the proposed legislation requiring the beverages to be moved to state liquor stores doesn't mean they won't be available anymore. The bill, which is still not public, was recommended by the State Liquor Commission and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff because of concerns that the drinks were being marketed to underage drinkers.
"We will be moving the bestsellers of these products and making them available to the public at room temperature," if the proposal passes, Kellen said. The state already sells high-alcohol content, or "strong" beer, in their liquor stores at room temperature.
They will cost more, Kellen said, noting the state-mandated markup on distilled spirts is 86 percent. He guessed the combined markup on the distilled malt beverages now totals 30 to 40 percent.
Lawmakers, though, suggested the bill would spell the end of "alco-pops" in Utah.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said following a House Conservative Caucus meeting Tuesday morning, where the issue was discussed, that there appears no way the new beverages can be accommodated in state liquor stores, where by current law they really belong.
"It looks like we're headed for a ban," said Hughes, who added that all issues would be discussed before such a harsh penalty is made.
Hughes said that current law says that all "distilled liquors" must be sold in state liquor stores, yet somehow the soda-like beverages, which have a malt base but contain distilled spirits, have been allowed to be sold in grocery stores. The drinks do meet the requirement that all drinks sold in grocery stores are 3.2 percent alcohol content.
Leaders of the LDS Church have publicly said that they want all distilled liquors, no matter what the alcohol content, to be sold by the state and not sold to the general public in grocery stores a stand that the state has taken for years. The church's public statement gives the legislation almost guaranteed passage, since approximately 80 percent of the legislators are Mormon.
While the bill would not specifically ban the beverages, Hughes said requiring them to be sold in state liquor stores would effectively ban them because the new beverages must be refrigerated to keep them fresh and liquor stores don't have refrigeration now. To add refrigeration would cost tens of thousands of dollars and limit already cramped floor space in existing liquor stores.However, Senate Majority Whip Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, said he can't see the state going so far as to ban the product. "Why would you ban it," Eastman said. "Isn't that like Prohibition?"