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3.2 beers that are sold in Utah often have less alcohol than that

SHARE 3.2 beers that are sold in Utah often have less alcohol than that

To beer aficionados, it's bad enough that the punch of locally sold brew is limited by Utah law to just 3.2 percent alcohol.

But the truth is, brewers are so afraid of violating the state's alcohol content law that they routinely make beer even weaker than that. Most beer sold in Utah comes in well below the legal limit, sometimes just 2.8 percent, beer industry experts say."All the beers will come in under 3.2 percent just to make sure they're not pushing the envelope," says Mike Brennan, general manager of General Distributing Co., which handles Anheuser Busch beverages in Utah.

"Everybody tries to safeguard that," he said. "Budweiser ships to Utah under 3.2 percent just to make sure we don't have any problems with the state."

Budweiser loses 40 minutes of production time - about 200,000 cans or 160,000 bottles of beer - every time it makes 3.2 beer. The factory has to change equipment back and forth to make the weaker brew for Utah, and then higher-alcohol beer for most other states.

Joe Fuentes, spokesman for Coors Brewing Co. in Golden, Colo., maintains the alcohol content of his company's 3.2 percent beer is pretty consistent.

"We're not talking a deviation of much at all," he said. "We don't wait until it hits the bottle before we test it."

Coors only puts a 3.2 percent beer label on beer that is 3.2 percent, Fuentes said. "We brew everything to specifications."

However, William Christoffersen, president of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association, also said beer sold in the state typically is weaker than advertised.

Indeed, even beer sold in Utah liquor stores, which allow higher alcohol content, is only 3.4 percent on average.

About 90 percent of low-calorie light beer, he added, is about 3 percent alcohol content by volume or less.

When it comes to alcohol content in beer, only Oklahoma has laws as restrictive as those in Utah. In Oklahoma, beer with more than 3.2 percent alcohol can be purchased only at state-owned liquor stores and private clubs.

In predominantly Mormon Utah, the law reflects the church's opposition to alcohol.

Utah consumes the least amount of beer of any state in the nation, according to the Beer Institute Almanac. On a per capita basis, Utah drinkers consume 13 gallons a year. By comparison, people in Nevada - which has the highest rate of consumption - drain 35 gallons a year.

Grocery stores in Kansas and Colorado may not sell beer with more than 3.2 percent alcohol, but microbreweries can.

Utah producers such as Salt Lake City's Wasatch Brewery, which makes a 5.5 percent beer that it sells only in state liquor stores, clubs and restaurants, are similarly careful when they make 3.2 beer.

"Anyone would be just about crazy not to give themselves some leeway," says brewer Dave McKean. Wasatch's 3.2 beers, he says, come in "right around 3 percent, give or take 0.2 percent."

Kenneth Wynn, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, says all types of beer are randomly pulled off store shelves and shipped to a state lab for testing.

"Certain beer manufacturers routinely come in under" the 3.2 legal limit, he said.

Only twice in the past year has the state found bottles of beer above the limit, Wynn said. And in both instances they were the result of out-of-state manufacturers - one of them Budweiser - shipping the wrong beer to Utah.