Colorado Beer Laws – For Better or Worse, Part 1

This is the first article in a three-part series spotlighting the divisiveness of current Colorado beer laws in comparison with other states.

Colorado Beer Laws Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, is hard at work drafting legislation that changes current Colorado beer laws for retailers, allowing grocery stores and convenience outlets to sell full-strength craft brews. The upcoming proposal will also permit grocers and convenience retail operators to increase the limit from one liquor license to five. In a divided issue among business owners and consumers alike, the interpretation varies of how Priola’s conditions will affect the Colorado craft beer culture and local economies if passed.

These complex dynamics may not be easy to digest. By comparing Colorado to similar states, it becomes easier to grasp why the liquor industry is ingrained in the livelihood of so many Coloradans and why this state has a unique and thriving beer subculture.

3.2-Percent-Beer Enabling States

For many, the transition away from 3.2% beer is only natural since all but three other states have done so. Is it any wonder the last states with these Prohibition-era regulations are all in or near the nation’s heartland?


Editor’s note: 2011 statistics are the most complete data at the time of publishing.


In the land of 10,000 lakes the Surly Bill was passed less than two years ago, which allows small brewers (producing fewer than 250,000 barrels in one year) to serve beer on the same premises it’s produced. Now Minnesota is gravitating to the repeal of the antiquated ban on Sunday liquor sales, an issue that Colorado resolved over four years ago. Plus, there are two more fermenting disputes up for debate in the near future: The limitations in place for brewpubs, preventing them from retailing their brews from anywhere but their own facility, and the obscure restrictions prohibiting brewers from retailing growlers once their annual output exceeds 3,500 barrels.


Colorado’s neighboring plains state is also immersed in a similar brewing battle. The glossy, PR-fronted Uncork Kansas coalition is mainly comprised of national supermarkets, chain convenience stores and chambers of commerce, and is the prime pitchman of the progression towards full-strength beer in Kansas grocery and convenience establishments. Just as in Colorado, Kansas small businesses (e.g. liquor store owners, craft brewers, etc.) oppose the change while corporate grocers and convenience retailers want to modify legislation. What’s more than interesting is how an overwhelming amount of new state lawmakers were voted into office last year after the mandated rezoning of districts. In previous years representatives repeatedly decided this issue wasn’t a priority for the state.


With possibly the strictest booze laws in the country, is it any surprise that Oklahoma doesn’t even have enough breweries to fill out a top ten list? Not only does the Sooner State have retail limitations on full-strength beer, Oklahoma restricts brewpubs from brewing beer greater than 3.2% by weight. The expectation of a sanction on off-site Sunday alcohol transactions is warranted and validated. And, by some bizarre logic, liquor stores are unable to sell refrigerated full-strength beer. As if that weren’t enough: Happy hour is unlawful, meaning restaurants and brewpubs are prohibited from advertising and selling alcohol at a discounted price. The shocker is that Oklahoma actually turns a blind eye to college football fans tailgating and drinking at the University of Oklahoma on game days (from non-glass containers, of course).

Colorado’s Beerscape

Though there are only four states left in the U.S. that still prescribe near-beer to grocers and convenience stores, other laws and influential cultural factors continue to uniquely dominate the beer landscape for each community. Colorado’s economy is presently steeped in complex yet strangely nurturing regulations. While big business and big brother continue to dictate dwindling individual incomes, simultaneously there’s an escalated awareness for cost reductions and revenue increases on all levels of government. With 63% of the Colorado beer jobs and yet only 4.6% of the market share, craft brewers are about to show the Centennial State just how vital the alcoholic beverage industry really is.

Part two explores the four states with the most breweries: California, Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

How do you think Colorado stand ups to states with similar near-beer laws?

About Lindsey Dulin

After discovering real beer since her FSU tailgate days, Lindsey Dulin is making up for lost time. She’s now an avid homebrewer and is ceaselessly finding reasons to celebrate the ordinary with a pint. In between beer sessions, Lindsey specializes in digital marketing communications and new media for SMBs. In her spare time she coordinates and participates in multiple volunteer programs and has been a veteran bartender and server for over 10 years. Contact her at

  • Kyle Freeman

    This is great reporting. I look forward to the rest of the series.

  • Connie Weiss

    Thanks for the info. Can’t wait to read the rest.