Throughout the U.S., the last vestiges of Prohibition are finally slipping away. In the last year, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas all finally did away with their lingering state laws that mandated the sale of “3.2 beer” in grocery and convenience stores. Now, Utah is looking to follow suit, with the aid of a pretty unlikely ally: Walmart.
The megalith of a retailer is now actively campaigning in its stores for the dropping of the 3.2 percent ABW guidelines, which would allow full-strength beer to be sold on premises. It’s doing this via signage, which asks customers to get involved in the fight on a state level by texting a number to join Walmart’s “Customer Action Network.”
“Walmart is currently asking our customers who already buy 3.2 beer if they would like the option to purchase full-strength beer in grocery and convenience stores, without having to travel to a state-operated liquor store,” said Walmart spokesperson Tiffany Wilson. “With recent changes to Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas laws, Utah remains one of the only states where consumers don’t have this option.”
On first glance, you’d probably be saying “Sure, why wouldn’t Walmart want to have access to a greater range of beers to sell?”, but the reality isn’t quite so clear cut. One of the reasons why 3.2 beer has persisted for so long is the support thrown to it in state legislatures via AB InBev and MillerCoors campaign contributions, who long reasoned that keeping the same state of affairs was advantageous for them—companies like InBev get to sell their 3.2 beer variants in all the large grocery stores and convenience stores, with very little competition from local craft breweries. Large retailers such as Walmart, therefore, have often been on the side of the large-scale macro brewers. But now, it would seem that something has changed—perhaps it’s just the bottoming demand for 3.2 beer.
Even the name “3.2 beer” itself is something of a misnomer, considering that it refers to 3.2 percent alcohol by weight, rather than the more commonly used alcohol by volume. This works out to roughly 4 percent ABV, which is only .2 percent below where brands such as Bud Light are already sold. These laws remain on the books in Utah and only one other state—Minneapolis—as a remnant of the end of Prohibition, when a handful of states drafted state legislation to keep some vestige of Prohibition alive after the passage of the 21st Amendment. If Utah is successful in ending its 3.2 beer, it will leave Minneapolis as the only place in the U.S. where a variant of this law is still on the books.
Regardless, it’s clear that in time, 3.2 beer will finally be gone forever.