3.2 beer was a way to get liquor quicker, but it's time to prohibit Prohibition beer

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The brewhaha at the Colorado Legislature is more heated than last call in LoDo.

But all the testy talk avoids the real issue: 3.2 beer is stupid, and so are the laws that have been crafted around its outdated existence.

A loser legacy of Prohibition, 3.2 beer was created back in 1933 because the country was eager to get back to drinking, and it was a way to get liquor quicker. Now, almost eight decades later, Colorado is one of the few states that still has official 3.2 beer -- and a tangle of regulations wrapped around it.

As the state's liquor laws evolved in the years after Prohibition, grocery stores and convenience stores were allowed to sell 3.2 beer -- and 3.2 beer only. But they could sell it to people eighteen and up (until 1987, when Colorado's drinking age was changed in order to hold on to federal highway funds), and sell it seven days a week -- a big advantage until 2008, when liquor stores were allowed to open on Sunday.

Liquor stores, meanwhile, could sell everything other than a fermented malt beverage with an alcohol content of 3.2 by weight (or 4 percent by volume).

But then consumers began demanding lighter beer, and a new segment of the industry evolved -- one turning out beers, like Corona Light and Amstel Light, that technically fall in the 3.2 range. And even Guinness can measure as low-alcohol.

Periodically, convenience stores and grocery stores have tried to expand the range of alcohol they can sell -- and liquor stores have fought back, hard. The battles have been particularly intense over the last half-decade. Last year, the legislature tried to clarify the law to say who could sell what -- and the language made it clear that restaurants, too, could not sell low-alcohol beer. Which means that the Corona Light I was swilling last night at a restaurant that shall go nameless was technically contrabrand.

The discussion at the legislature right now involves Governor John Hickenlooper, a former brewer, trying to cut red tape around the expensive testing requirements for craft-beer makers that evolved from last year's legislation -- which is particularly hilarious, since no respectable craft-beer maker wants to be known for making low-alcohol beers.

Like the restaurants stuck in these regulations, though, the craft-brewers are a sideshow. Until legislators decide it's time to pour Prohibition beer down the drain and come to grips with what, exactly, liquor stores and convenience stores are allowed to sell, this brewhaha won't dry up.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Top 7 ways to improve Colorado tourism: Are you listening, Visit Denver?"

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