I live in Denver, Colorado and I have noticed many grocery stores will have full a liquor selection and normal alcohol content beer, but others will only sell 3.2% beer and no liquor. This goes even for the same chain of stores. For example, Safeway will carry a full liquor selection at one location but only 3.2% beer at another.

This seems to apply to every chain in town including: King Soopers, Safeway, Walmart, Target, etc. Therefore I am wondering if there is a law limiting this? If so, what are the details?

  • Correct but for one thing, the target that sells full strength alcohol is in Glendale less than a mile from the King Soopers that does the same.
    – user3696
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 2:50
  • That's the man keeping you down
    – Pepi
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 7:26
  • Yea, I just noticed the "beer" from Walmart at Quebec and 470 only sells 3.2 beer. Won't be going there anymore.
    – user4264
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 5:53

5 Answers 5


In Colorado only 1 store in a chain is allowed to sell liquor, wine or full strength beer. These are known as 'State Stores'... So a chain like Target or King Soopers picks one location in the state that they want to have that license and that's the one that can sell it... All others are only allowed to sell 3.2 beer.

  • Perhaps another question, but "why" the state made such a restrictive regulation is perplexing to me. Especially considering there is a liquor store on every corner in Denver and throughout Colorado as a whole. Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 4:34

Retail stores in Colorado sell spirits, wine, and beer. Grocery and convenience stores sell 3.2 percent beer only, and then not between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Package stores are open 8 a.m. until midnight and are closed on Sundays. Bars stop selling alcohol between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.

I would guess those "grocery stores" selling spirits and such are probably classified as something other than a grocery store.

This information may be a little out of date, Colorado does allow Sunday sales now. I found this on Wikipedia:

Spirituous, vinous & malt liquor available in liquor stores and liquor-licensed drug stores only. Liquor stores closed on Christmas Day. Sunday sales restriction lifted on July 1, 2008. Liquor stores and liquor-licensed drug stores may have only one location, while 3.2% beer may be sold in gas stations, supermarkets, and convenience stores. Appropriately licensed businesses may also sell 3.2% beer for both on and off-premise consumption. A small number of grocery stores are licensed as drug stores and sell full strength beer, wine, and spirits. As an example, a chain grocery store that has pharmacy services at most or all locations may elect a single location in the chain as the licensed establishment to sell beer, wine, and spirits.


The above answer is correct. Just to expand a little, companies can only hold one Colorado retail liquor store license, which is the type of license that allows them to sell "full strength" beer, wine and spirits. It's the same class of liquor license held by the liquor stores found in most shopping centers. There is no limit to the number of 3.2% beer licenses a company can hold. For example, a Safeway store in Glendale holds their only retail liquor store license, while Target holds theirs at a store in Littleton. Their other Colorado stores all hold licenses to sell 3.2% beer.


Colorado has historically differentiated between 3.2% beer and all other alcoholic beverages. When I was in high school in Colorado in the 1970s the state had a split drinking age. At age 18 you could drink 3.2% beer; at age 21 you could drink any alcoholic beverage.

The explanation we heard at the time was that the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs was the reason. People felt that if you're old enough to join the military, you should be old enough to have a drink, but they didn't want an across-the-board drinking age of 18.

Blue laws have their way of leaving tendrils behind even when they're repealed or rewritten. I suspect these 3.2% liquor licenses come from the same roots as the old split drinking age.


It doesn't matter what beer you drink, whether it is a beer bought from the grocery store or a liquor store in Colorado. It is all the same beer, bottled off the same vat. In every beer sold, alcohol is measured by volume, except 3.2% beer which is measured as alcohol by weight. Ask a brewer they will tell you the same. They (the beer owners) did this so that they could get around the blue laws prohibiting beer sales on Sunday, but without any cost increase to the business. If you drink Coors Light bought at a liquor store it's 4.2% ABV, that very same beer bought at a 7-11 is 3.2% ABW. The measurement ABW is just about a 1% difference vs. ABV.

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