Moving on from Stone cold: How to mend Ohio’s broken craft beer heart

It’s a Stone-hearted snake

The wound from our last rejection is still healing and memories of brewery callers past haunt Ohio’s craft beer faithful so that every crack of a new ‘Enjoy By [pick a date]’ bomber plays the chorus of a Top 40s breakup song.

SoCal’s Stone Brewing Company – who was at the time seeking a suitable location for a planned $60M, 375-job-creating Eastern US brewing facility – courted Ohio legislators, Columbus developers and craft industry advocates for months before finally leaving the Buckeye State at the brew kettle to run off into the arms of Richmond, VA.

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Apparently, Richmond had a better business climate, more tax incentives, a nicer riverfront lot – oh, and no ABV cap. Stone basically brushed off the ABV issue and said in a roundabout way that other considerations were more important. We all knew, though – capping beer at 12% fully fermented makes Ohio less than adequate when it comes to pleasing some brewers. At least we got a parting gift. – and they were sensitive enough to brew it to 8.45%.

The non-Stella-drinking state getting its groove back?

I guess we’re ready to move on here. They say you have to get back in the saddle at some point, but don’t blame us for putting our guard up now that we’ve heard another hot-as-hell craft brewery is in the market and has its sights set on Ohio. The mega popular UK brewery of recent television fame, BrewDog, announced recently (buried to the bottom) as they plan an expansion that the owners are looking for a site in Columbus, which would become the company’s first ever American location. You can probably only imagine the collective excitement that has been ripping across the plains and reverberating on the surfaces of imperial stouts in Spiegelau glasses from Youngstown to Cincinnati.

It may go unnoticed throughout the rest of the country, but Ohio is a HUGE beer state. Aside from supporting our sporting organizations with blind loyalty, brewing and drinking good beer is about the only fun thing we Ohioans have to do. It’s safe to say that Ohio is a self beer-stainable state with over 160 locations brewing good damn beer. For Christ’s sake, our SIXTH largest city has 12 breweries to support a population of less than 850,000.

It could be the disloyal and go-off-half-cocked weather in this state, but for some reason we’re never happy with what we have. You can reference the number of times the Cleveland Browns have replaced their starting quarterback since 1999 as an example. It’s 21. The stinking Browns have had 21 starting QBs since 1999.

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In the interest of full disclosure: I am a fan of non-douchey football players. Oh, and I bleed orange & black.

Not to make excuses, but some kind of parallel has to be drawn in order to understand what compels a fairly well economically rebounding state with a vibrant craft beer industry to start making goo goo eyes at a new out-of-state (out of the country in this case) brewery suitor. Call it a rebound, I guess.

In walks BrewDog with its fine self

One has to wholly expect us to wonder what they see in this state. It’s no secret that Ohio has a small ABV cap – thanks to that bigmouth, Sheila – and BrewDog isn’t known for flirting with little beers. After all, we’re talking about the brewers who fermented an IPA at the bottom of the North Sea and brewed a beer that clocks in at 55% ABV, one of the highest ABV beers ever brewed. So what happens if Ohio can’t find a way to increase the size of it’s cap? Do we really think that another internationally renown craft brewer, one that publicizes its penchant for having parts of its portfolio well above 12%, is going to choose Ohio?

But we got a recommendation from another big-time brewery, you say. BIG FIRKIN DEAL! It’s from the ex.

 

Columbus brewers say there’s plenty of room for the Scottish craft beer maker here

Why does size matter?

Novelty, novelty, novelty. Of course, BrewDog doesn’t plan to brew a million barrels of Sink the Bismark, let alone in The States. That’s not even the point of brewing such a beer. Aside from the love of the art of brewing and doing it for the challenge, many “big beers” are brewed for marketing hype, to have something to break up the monotony and crate a buzz. A big number of big beers have a limited production run and reach some level of whale beer status, because they are so rare or hard to get. There is a significant portion of the craft beer community that either desperately seeks out whales and other limited beers, or they spend a fraction of their lifetime on forums and social media talking about how they would love to be able to sample one. Brewers make their production schedules with top sellers driving the forecasting models, but Prairie always leaves enough room for Bomb, Founders for KBS and BrewDog undoubtedly will for one or each of the of the Paradox variants.

One of the most important reasons for a breweries expansion – especially to another region or country – is improved logistics, to be closer to a market or potential market. In this case, the market is close to half of the half of America that doesn’t believe that drinking beer is against their religion. Now, Ohio plays very aggressively when it comes to logistics. Just 70 miles West of Columbus there is an intersection that can take you as far as Baltimore, Utah, Canada or the Florida Everglades. Sure, that kind of beer truck access could drive Ohio to the very top of BrewDog’s favorites list, but only if that’s the only variable being considered and if you’re assuming that there aren’t other American cities with comparable logistical sweet spots and well ado craft consumer armies. Anyone care to guess how much East Coast hype BrewDog will generate with limited releases of high gravity beer? Now take a look here to see how many states surrounding Ohio have ABV caps on beer. One. The answer is one state, West Virginia.

So, maybe Stone was being completely transparent about their reasons for dumping Ohio.

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But Stone isn’t BrewDog. Extreme production is a recognizable part of BrewDog’s brand – extreme as in big ass beers.

Our parents won’t let us

I will say a couple of things in loving Ohio’s defense (but then I’m going to dog it again for the ABV cap):

1. The caps on production in Ohio are fairly favorable to craft brewers, making the A1 license cutoff at 1M barrels or 31M gallons.

2. The 3-tier exceptions for craft brewers are ridiculously nice, allowing craft manufacturers to serve directly to the public and to self distribute.

Now the thing that sucks about Ohio as a parental state is that we can’t purchase one damn drop of anything beer that measures at even a half of a percent over 12. Ultimately, that means a brewer could accidentally go over on a batch that was intended to be under 12% and have to dump the whole batch of beer. That’s just embarrassing when you’re trying to impress a new brewery.

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There are plenty of fish in the craft beer sea, but Ohio law won’t let us go out on any dates with them. There are somewhere around 75 beers on ratebeer.com that rank in the top 20 of their respective styles that Ohioans cannot buy in Ohio.

Maybe we need a craft beer dating site

Rep Dan Ramos is trying hard to be a good friend and hook Ohio up with BrewDog. He has – once again – introduced “a serious bill” in the Ohio assembly to raise the ABV on beer to at least 21% (keep in mind you can easily purchase a fifth of 75.5% rum at a liquor store). My fear is that if HB 68 doesn’t make it to a vote on the floor this time around, It’s going to be some time before there’s even talk of raising the proof again. By then… well, there’s only one thing that hurts worse than a broken heart and that’s getting it broken again.

If Ohio really wants to get over what happened with Stone Brewing and have any kind of viable dating options when it comes to attracting more large, out-of-state breweries – it needs more politicians to support the ABV bill. Back in the Fall of 2014, before the last attempt died, several prominent members of the assembly voiced support for changing the cap. We need that support again, and Ohio’s craft beer drinkers and brewers need to get vocal in order to drum up that support. You can email your reps and find them on social media to let them know how important you think the craft brewing industry is to Ohio. I plan on calling out the members of the committee that have the ability to put the bill through to a vote on the floor of The Ohio Assembly.

One other thing you can do to help is use the hashtags #HB68 and #RaiseTheProof.

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Brew Studs Founder, Editor. Homebrewer. Good Damn Beer Drinker. Steward to Craft Beer Nation.
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