The light stuff: Does it make sense to ban Corona Light and other low-alcohol beers from restaurants?

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In restaurants across town this weekend, I sucked down an illegal substance: Corona Light.

In this craft-beer crazy state, it's tough enough to stay loyal to a beer that one sneering beerman labels an "almost beer." But last year, the Colorado Legislature made it even tougher: In a bill that was supposed to clarify the rules regarding what alcohol can only be sold in convenience stores and grocery stores (3.2 beer, and 3.2 beer only) and what can be sold in liquor stores (supposedly everything else), restaurants were somehow thrown into the mix and, like liquor stores, were officially prohibited from selling low-alcohol beer.

But as it turned out, that amendment didn't just ban the sale of 3.2 beer in restaurants. It also ruled out the sale of any beer that measures below 4 percent alcohol by volume/3.2 percent by weight -- which means Corona Light, Amstel Light, maybe even Guinness and Murphy's, depending on who's doing the measuring.

The restaurants -- and my Corona Light -- were collateral damage in the ongoing fight between liquor stores on one side, grocery stores and convenience stores on the other, a fight that's been waged in earnest for the past four years but dates back to 1933, when 3.2 beer was created. Senator Betty Boyd has been sponsoring a bill to remove restaurants from the battlefield and allow the sale of low-alcohol beer there -- but then last Friday the Division of Liquor Enforcement, which has been holding meetings for months to figure out how to deal with the low-alcohol law, changed the rules for how it deals with the current regulations.

That had the convenience and grocery stores (and their lobbyists) crying foul, pointing fingers at beer-friendly Governor John Hickenlooper, a co-founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company (and, by the way, a bar where I never found a light beer and got mocked plenty when I asked for one). And today, two House Republicans are holding a joint hearing of their committees, to determine how and why the Division of Liquor Enforcement suddenly changed the rules. (Easy answer: The rules were so confusing that restaurants across Colorado had no idea that serving Corona Light might be against the law.)

Although it's long past time to do away with 3.2 beer, a loser legacy of Prohibition, that's a sticky issue mired in the ongoing controversy over whether convenience stores and grocery stores can sell full-strength beer (never mind wine and other alcohol), and liquor stores have shown no sign of wanting to surrender on that issue.

But does it make any sense to prohibit restaurants and bars from serving low-alcohol beer to customers who'd rather go for the light stuff?

When Corona Light is outlawed....

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