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Larry Liston's bill allowing supermarkets to sell big beer makes for strange drinking buddies

Larry Liston says it's party time.
Larry Liston says it's party time.

It's not often that you'll find Republican representative Larry Liston and his liberal colleague, Democrat Crisanta Duran, on the same side of an issue.

Nor is it common to see the United Food and Commercial Workers and the supermarket chains fighting together for a cause.

But all of those strange bedfellows came together on St. Patrick's Day -- one of the biggest beer-drinking days of the year -- to support legislation proposed by Liston that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer at all of their Colorado locations.

House Bill 1284, which was introduced today, would do away with the laws that allow these stores to sell only beer that is 3.2 percent alcohol or less and permit restaurants and liquor stores to sell only beer that has a higher alcohol content.

"It's not about pitting retailers against each other," Liston said at a press conference inside the liquor store at the new King Soopers at Leetsdale Avenue and Cherry Street -- the only King Soopers in the state that is allowed to sell full-strength beer and wine. "Or about the government picking winners and losers."

The purpose, he explained, was to do away with a "problem that annoys and confuses consumers," stifles competition and job growth, and puts the government in the business of testing alcohol content. Consumers, he said, should be able to buy their Guinness beer and their corned beef and cabbage at the same location on St. Patrick's Day.

His proposed law -- which is similar to ones that have been shot down in the legislature for the past two years running -- would likely create union jobs at supermarkets. But the liquor stores and Colorado craft brewers who oppose it say it would put many small, independently-owned liquor stores out of business, destroying those jobs.

And while supermarkets and convenience stores would probably carry several local craft beer labels, they wouldn't carry enough of them, the brewers say -- something that the brewers believe would eventually limit their ability to make more of the beer that their customers want.

But Liston, who stood in front of a row of Colorado craft beers stocked by the store (in particular, Odell Brewing of Fort Collins, whose founder is the past chairman of the Craft Brewers Guild, and Longmont's Left Hand Brewing, whose co-founder, Eric Wallace, is the current chairman and a vocal opponent of similar legislation), said he doesn't believe his bill would hurt the liquor stores.

As for craft beers, he assured the brewers that supermarkets "want to sell your product. They are eager to sell your product."

Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.

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