- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Local brewers and liquor stores are bracing for another push to allow Colorado grocery stores to sell wine and higher alcohol-content beer, a move opponents see as a threat to the craft beer industry.

The debate has played out many times in the state Legislature, but this time it’s moving toward the 2016 ballot for voters to decide.

Although no paperwork has been filed yet, a group with backing from grocery chains has started drumming up support through Facebook and an online petition to change Colorado’s Prohibition-era liquor laws.

Brewers, meanwhile, have created a special beer dubbed “Keep Colorado LocALE,” a pale ale made with state malts and hops to be served at local tap rooms. The brew is intended to be a conversation starter about the looming battle.

Colorado is among five states where gas stations, grocery stores and convenience stores are only allowed to sell beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent. However, grocery chains are allowed one liquor license to sell wine and stronger beer, but they can only do that at a single store.

Utah, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma are the other states that restrict the sale of stronger beer to liquor stores.

Supporters of a ballot initiative argue that the goal is giving consumers more options when shopping for alcohol. But liquor stores warn that if the law changes, they will be squeezed out. That, liquor stores argue, will hurt craft brewers, who will have less shelf space at grocery stores that will be inclined to carry more big-brand beers.

“The system would then favor a very few, select breweries,” said Tim Evon, the head brewer at Dry Dock in Aurora.

Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for Colorado Consumers for Choice, the group working on a ballot initiative, dismissed the notion that craft brewers would lose space at grocery stores. He said many are eager to put Colorado brews on their shelves.

“If you visit a grocery store in one of the 40-some-odd states that sell real beer and wine, guess what you’ll find? A massive selection of the world’s most popular craft brews, including a long list that are brewed right here in Colorado,” he said in a statement.

Evon said Colorado’s current liquor laws have allowed craft brewers to thrive.

“Before I was a brewer, I was a beer nerd, and me and every beer nerd knows that Colorado is the epicenter of craft beer in this country,” he said. “And there’s good reason for that, and this law is a huge part of that.”

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