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Salt Lake beer battle brewing again

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Call it beer war II.

The Salt Lake City Council Thursday continued a controversy it initiated in 2001, when the council considered allowing brew pubs to enter into competition with the city's microbreweries.

On one side the city's microbreweries, like Uinta Brewing Co. and Wasatch Brewing Co., have been forced into southwestern industrial districts to brew and wholesale their beer to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the state.

While they would like nicer addresses, these breweries are limited to manufacturing districts by city zoning, since they have large deliveries of grain, use forklifts to load kegs and stock delivery trucks for shipping.

In commercial zones, the breweries' operations might stall traffic and stifle business.

On the other side, the city's brew pubs have more upscale addresses in trendy spots downtown and at Trolley Square but can't sell their beer anywhere outside their own restaurants. They are allowed in commercial areas because their limited production doesn't create manufacturing impacts like the larger microbreweries.

For a few years now, some pub owners have been pushing to expand into wholesale if City Hall will change zoning to allow it.

At the brew pubs' request, Councilwoman Jill Love is recommending the city tweak its zoning laws to allow the brew pubs to compete with the microbreweries on a small scale. Under the proposed change, the brew pubs could wholesale 500 barrels (1,000 kegs or 164,400 bottles) of beer per year, for sale in grocery stores or other restaurants.

Previously, also at the brew pubs' request, former councilman Tom Rogan proposed allowing the brew pubs to wholesale up to 10,000 barrels a year. That plan failed in 2001 when Rogan couldn't drum up any support among the council.

Now the brew pubs are back with a scaled-back plan.

Still, the microbreweries, which brew upwards of 15,000 barrels yearly, are opposed.

Uinta Brewing Co. President Will Hamill sent the council a letter urging them to stick by existing zoning and keep the manufacturing impacts of wholesaling beer in manufacturing districts.

"The impacts of beer distribution have not changed. What has changed is that the brew pubs' beer sales have slowed and they are looking for new ways to increase revenue and justify their breweries in slow economic times," Hamill wrote.

The council, however, seemed inclined to grant the zoning change, with Love, Dave Buhler, Eric Jergensen expressing support and only Van Turner expressing opposition.

Love argued that other cities, like Moab and Park City, allow brew pubs to wholesale beer.

Robert Jensen of Red Rock Brewing Co. said the effects of brewing an extra 500 barrels would be "a blip on the radar screen in terms of impact."

The council decided to forward the issue on the Mayor Rocky Anderson's administration to begin the public process to change the zoning, a process that will likely take about six months.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com