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DENVER — The fight over full-strength beer sales at Colorado grocery stores is on tap yet again at the state Capitol. This time - it's all about the age of clerks who can sell beer at grocery and convenience stores.
Colorado has a long-standing love affair with craft beer and microbreweries. But, only liquor stores can carry craft and full-strength beer. That will all change January 1, 2019, when Senate Bill 197 goes into effect.
The 2016 bill will allow places like King Soopers, Safeway and 7-Eleven to sell full-strength beer, as long as they pay for the license to do so. Grocery stores will pay a city fee of $17.50 and a state fee of $117.50. Retail liquor stores pay a city fee of $37.50 and a state fee of $312.50.
Right now, Colorado retailers - like grocery stores - that want to sell beer can only carry the 3.2 brews, which have about half the alcohol content of full-strength.
Now, the fight is over the age of store clerks. Current law requires liquor store employees to be 21 and older. Many liquor store owners believe the same rules should apply to the new crop of full-strength beer sellers that will come online next year.
And it's not just about full-strength beer. Grocery and convenience stores will also be allowed to carry malt liquor - which has up to five-times the alcohol content of beer. Malt liquor is also often be very cheap, packaged in colorful cans and loaded with sugar.
"They're very high in alcohol content," said Jared Blauweiss, owner of Mr. B's Wine & Spirits in LoDo. "The way they advertise those products, it seems like it's marketed to a younger demographic for sure."
Convenience store owners argue it would cost too much to keep a 21-and-older employee on staff at all hours of they day.
Brad Manske is the VP of ViewHouse Eatery & Bar in LoDo. He points out that many of his servers are under 21 and serve alcohol all the time.
"They're trained to check ID's and they should be TIPS certified," said Manske. "It comes down to hiring the right people."
At least one state Senator plans to address the issue this legislative session. Republican Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert is trying to pass a bill this session that requires anyone who sells full-strength beer or liquor to be 21.
"I think it's unsafe, and they're talking about every single (grocery & convenience store) suddenly overnight being able to sell full-strength," said Lisa Von Feldt, General Manager at The Wine Seller and Spirits too. "It seems incredibly irresponsible."
For now, it's a beer lover's world. But, the debate over who can serve what is at a stalemate.