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Standard Deviations: What’s the big deal about 5% beer?

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner - | Nov 3, 2019

One of the most important roles I see myself fulfilling as a weekly columnist for the local newspaper is attempting to bridge the gap between two disparate groups that often find themselves at odds here in the Beehive State.

Sadly, we’ve long embraced this sort of binary culture in Utah. It’s on or off. A one or a zero. You’re classified as a saint or a sinner.

In other words, you’re either a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or you’re … well … not. Indeed, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then clearly Mormons are from heaven and Gentiles are from hell.

Or was it, Gentiles are from heaven and Mormons are from hell?

As a result, the two groups often find themselves standing at opposite corners of Misunderstanding Street and Mistrust Boulevard, angrily hurling epithets at one another. And most times, it’s because they simply just don’t get where the other side is coming from.

For example, when Mormons get all excited about the church announcing it’s building a temple in their hometown, most Gentiles scratch their heads in uncomprehending confusion. And when Gentiles get all worked up over a change in the liquor laws, many Mormons are equally perplexed.

This past week, when some of the state’s drinkers were attending beer funerals and hanging out with teams of very large horses, it was the Mormons’ turn to wonder what the big deal was.

On Friday, Utah finally dumped the requirement that the beer sold in grocery and convenience stores could only be 3.2% alcohol-by-weight, increasing the allowable alcohol content to 4%.

Celebrations broke out. People and businesses held raucous funerals for the weaker beer. And on Thursday, the Budweiser Clydesdales were in Ogden, ceremoniously delivering this stronger, “heavy” beer to bars along Historic 25th Street.

You’d have thought they just repealed Prohibition.

I get the sense that many of my Mormon friends simply don’t comprehend what a big deal it is that this past week Utah dropped the weaker 3.2% beer for the stronger 4% beer. But I think I’ve got a little analogy that may help.

OK, fellow Mormons, think back to a Saturday in early October, a little over a year ago. Just after 10 a.m., near the beginning of the first session of the church’s semiannual General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced that the usual three-hour block of Sunday church meetings — a reality for so many decades — would be shortened to just two hours.

Remember that unbridled euphoria you felt when it finally sank in that you’d soon be attending one-third less church? That’s sort of the way your beer-swilling friends and neighbors are now feeling. They can henceforth stop at the local convenience store and purchase a beer that is 25% better than it was just a week ago.

It’s like Christmas for alcoholics!

Naw, I’m just kidding. That’s another of the misconceptions that many of us nondrinkers fall prey to — that anyone who imbibes is basically an alcoholic. A wise, non-LDS neighbor once pointed that out to me.

“Just because someone drinks alcohol doesn’t make them an alcoholic,” he explained, allowing his gaze to drop to my ample midsection. “Any more than eating a salad makes you a vegetarian.”

Point taken.

Now, there’s been a bit of confusion regarding just how much stronger the beer in Utah will be going forward. It seems that some folks have been playing a little fast and loose with the facts — possibly in an attempt to make it seem like Utah lawmakers are much more generous than they actually are.

I’ve seen reports on social media and elsewhere where it’s claimed that we’re bidding farewell to 3.2% beer and saying hello to 5% beer. And if that were true, it would represent a whopping 56.25% increase in the alcohol content of grocery-store beer.

But the truth is, those two percentages are like comparing apples and oranges. The 3.2% number is alcohol-by-weight. The 5% figure is alcohol-by-volume. They’re not at all the same. (Darn metric system!)

In reality, state law has raised the alcohol content in beer from 3.2% to 4% by weight, which equates to going from 4% to 5% by volume. And, as was mentioned earlier, that’s only a 25% increase.

Still, the new law is nothing to sneeze at, and even the most cynical of beer-drinkers has to agree it is — at the very least — a baby step in the right direction.

And who knows? At this rate, the saints and sinners in this state may one day leave their street corners and meet in the middle of Misunderstanding and Mistrust.


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