Many of you may be aware of a bill currently moving through our state Legislature that, if passed, would allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer.
"Finally!" you may be saying. And, truly, what could be more convenient than tossing a six-pack of your favorite Colorado microbrew in the cart while you're buying your other groceries?
As a Colorado native and a Colorado Springs craft brewer for the past 16 years, I'd like to suggest that you be careful what you wish for. This issue is far more complex, and the ramifications far more detrimental, than you may realize.
Let's go back to that grocery store where you grabbed your favorite Colorado microbrew while you were shopping. If I'm lucky, and your favorite Colorado beer happens to be Laughing Lab Scottish Ale, my flagship beer, you'll be searching for a long time — because it's not likely the big grocery chains will stock Laughing Lab or any other Bristol beer, for that matter.
Here's why: Based on conversations I've had with four major grocery and convenience store representatives, their system simply doesn't allow for selling a variety of local choices. It's designed for selling the same selection in as many of their chain stores as possible. That means I'm basically shut out. So are many other Colorado breweries like mine, who don't have enough distribution clout and nationwide sales exposure to get the attention of the corporate decision-makers who live out of state.
Which brings up another point: The beer money you'd be spending at grocery and convenience stores would go out of state, too, instead of into our local economy, where we could use it right about now.
So, back to you and the grocery store. If you're in a hurry, you'll pick up a beer that they do stock — most likely a big domestic, an import, or something from a national craft brewery. I've just lost a sale. If you're not in a hurry, you'll stop by the liquor store to buy some Laughing Lab. But wait, that mom-and-pop liquor store next door is no longer open — because the playing field is no longer level.
It would be easy for me to exaggerate for effect here, but the fact is an independent economic report (find a link at bristolbrewing.com) released last year estimates that within five years, 900 of Colorado's approximately 1,600 liquor stores will close if grocery and convenience stores are allowed to sell full-strength beer. The same study estimates that 10,000 jobs will be lost, due not only to liquor stores closing, but craft breweries as well.
Why is this a bad thing for craft breweries? Colorado currently has 146 breweries (plus nine more hoping to open soon) offering a wide selection of world-class beers. We have the most vibrant and diverse brewing culture of any state. Why? Because breweries have had fair access to market for their beers — through locally owned liquor stores that stock locally made beer.
With grocery and convenience stores only stocking full-strength national brands, we lose the opportunity to compete, smaller breweries can no longer survive, and you, the consumer, lose the wide selection of craft beers you've come to enjoy. Prices will go up, too.
Why would we want to put the majority of control over Colorado's beer sales in the hands of a few large, out-of-state corporations?
Another ramification may hit closer to home: If the legislation passes and Bristol Brewing Company is to survive, we'll have to change our business model. In survival mode, our ability to give back to the community will be greatly decreased. And without a reliable outlet for our Community Ales (such as Venetucci Pumpkin Ale), those kinds of specialty beers may become a thing of the past.
My point is that, while the goal seems simple, the cost to Colorado's economy and you, the consumer, is far-reaching. It just doesn't make sense — this legislation kills jobs, sends our money out of state, limits consumer choice and drives prices higher.
Just so we don't have to travel a few extra yards to buy our beer?
Mike Bristol and his wife, Amanda, founded Colorado Springs' Bristol Brewing Company in 1994 and continue to run it as a locally owned, community-minded business.