You drive over from Indiana to visit relatives in Ohio for Thanksgiving. You listen to Alice’s Restaurant, you watch football, you gorge yourself with a huge Thanksgiving dinner and then you get stir crazy listening to your mother-in-law carry on about her sore feet and her rotten neighbors. You have to get out of the house, first chance. Then you remember that Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout comes out first thing tomorrow morning…alarm set.
At 7:00 AM, you hustle out of the warm house into the flurry morning, hoping the line at your favorite craft beer bottle shop isn’t too long, and you pull in. No one’s there…Yes! And then wah, wah…it dawns on you. They don’t sell Bourbon County Stout in Ohio – because it’s just a percent or two over Ohio’s 12 percent cap on beer alcohol by volume (ABV).
I’m willing to bet that a story like this has happened to craft beer fans or similarly, some have attempted to buy beer on Sunday while driving through Indiana. Which you can’t. Either way, it just doesn’t make any damn sense. Why can’t beer laws be similar from state to state?
Ohio is basically the donut hole of its surrounding neighbors by being only one of two states (also West Virginia) with a state-sanctioned ABV cap on beer. However, they are on the precipice of washing down that law. For several years now, Ohio representatives have proposed raising the ABV limit from 12 to 18 percent, and then 21 percent, but new legislation has proposed the removal of the restriction altogether. And most appropriate during American Craft Beer Week, the bill was just approved by both chambers of the Ohio legislature and is on its way to be signed by beer-friendly Governor John Kasich.
Ohio actually raised its ABV limit from 6 to 12 percent in 2002, but arguments for having a 12 percent cap persist. Many of the remaining antiquated laws were birthed during Prohibition’s scare tactics, with the thought that lenient beer laws would cause drunk and disorderliness. And in this day, proponents argue that underage drinking and drunk driving cases would increase but data from other states have shown that this is not the case.
An ABV limit in Ohio causes beer fans seeking something stronger to cross state lines to make their purchases, robbing Ohio of tax revenue. It also negatively affects those small businesses in its ability to stay afloat, by hindering creativity and demand. Distribution will flourish after the ban is removed for smaller and larger breweries alike, and the Ohio beer world will reach new heights, though it may be hard to quantify since production in the state will continue to rise in double-digits.
2015 Production in Barrels: (Brewers Association statistics)
West Virginia 14,161
Because of the cap limit, a new term was coined (like, just now) called Alcohol Volume Discrimination (AVD), which pointed out the fact that Ohio drinkers, and others, may be missing out on otherwise beerworldly experiences. Once lifted, new day-long celebrations will take place in the Buckeye state that will be similar to the Goose Island Black Friday BCS release or Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day.
In recent years, the ABV cap has arguably been the only regulation on beer considered unfavorable to craft brewing in the Buckeye State. Currently, a reformed three-tier system of alcohol regulation is used in Ohio that allows breweries who produce under 1,000,000 barrels per year to sell directly to consumers and self-distribute. This system protects the craft beer industry in the state by disallowing a large brewery – like Anhueser-Busch – from owning a distributorship and forcing their own products down the throats of Ohio consumers. Keeping distribution independent insures that it is open to smaller breweries who decide to package their products and try to compete at the regional or state level in the market.
Licensing fees for Ohio’s small brewers were lowered just a few years ago from about $4,000 to just $1,000. Larger breweries tend to have more packaged sales through distribution while smaller businesses sell more on sight, so just as these things have benefited Ohio’s independent brewers, a new law will be a welcomed boost.
Worries about bigger, more potent beers have proved to be unfounded since higher ABV beers cost more, helping to keep alcohol abuse in check. See, craft beer fans know this; it’s not about pounding beer and getting drunk, it’s about enjoying the experience responsibly. Meanwhile, brewing higher alcohol concoctions allows breweries to enter into another world of artistic creation, the state reaps a fiscal benefit of more tax revenue and beer fans get to raise their glasses to fun, new and unique beers.
In addition, a rockstar brewery out of Scotland, Brewdog, will be opening a major production facility (its first American location) just outside of Columbus this summer. Brewdog has made a name for itself by brewing irreverently, which a lot of times has come in the form of beers that reach what some may consider to be the maximum tolerable amount (or above) on beer ABV. Ohioans can consider themselves luck that Brewdog decided to locate in the state, as it was rumored that Stone Brewing had considered the ABV cap a strike against Ohio when making a similar expansion decision, opting instead to build in Virginia.
Don’t you know, Ohio brewers are lining up their grains at this moment, getting ready to win the race in brewing the state’s first husky, 12%-plus beer, just after the new law is signed. You can be sure as football in the fall, that breweries like Stone and Dogfish Head will be getting their larger beers out in front of Ohio drinkers very quickly. Oh, and by the way, you might want to take off work that day after Thanksgiving.
So. Ohio brewers….on your mark…