Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reference the ballot issue regarding the sale of wine in grocery stores.
DENVER (KDVR) — Beer sales actually dropped following the legalization of full-strength beer in Colorado grocery stores, but that’s not all there is to the story.
Coloradans are preparing to vote on Prop 125 in November which would allow grocery stores to sell wine alongside beer.
Opponents to the ballot initiative said it would wreck livelihoods, echoing the objections of liquor store owners in other states that passed similar laws in the last decade. If passed, mom-and-pop liquor store owners said big box grocers would corner the wine market and put smaller retailers out of business.
The ballot’s advocates said Colorado’s history with beer sales disproves this objection. Colorado legalized grocery store sales of full-strength beer in 2019. They claim the number of licensed retail liquor stores has gone up since then, not down.
Liquor licensing data from the Colorado Department of Revenue does back this claim, though a crucial piece of context is missing from the broader conversation.
It is true that the number of licensed retail liquor stores in 2021 was greater than in 2019, but only by a scant handful.
After the beer-legalizing measure was passed in 2019, the number of licensed liquor stores dropped by nearly 50 the following year. In 2021, it climbed back to 1,592 – only five more in total than in 2019.
The number of Colorado liquor stores has stayed relatively level since 2017, hovering just under 1,600 altogether.
It is also true that liquor sales climbed since 2019, both in overall revenue and in total volume.
State tax records show excise tax grew since 2019, from $45.5 million to $53.3 million last year. This is the state’s cut of overall sales.
The volume of alcohol sold also went up after 2019. The number of gallons of beer and malt beverages grew from 126 million in 2019 to 128 million in 2021, while the number of liters of spirits and wine grew from 119 million to 136 million at the same time.
The growth of sales has an extra factor, however – the COVID pandemic. Nationally, several studies noted an uptick in wine and liquor sales in 2020. Contrary to popular belief, however, beer sales actually dropped in Colorado in 2020 before rebounding in 2021.