DARKE COUNTY – Ohio beer connoisseurs may soon have more options to choose from, as a new bill in the Ohio House of Representatives may allow brewers to produce and sell beer containing up to 21 percent alcohol by volume.
House Bill 391 was re-introduced by State Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) on Dec. 16 in a move aimed at spurring economic development in Ohio’s growing brewing industry.
“The brewing industry is one of the few sectors that continued to experience growth through the recession. It is time Ohio abandons unnecessary regulations that put us at a competitive disadvantage with other states and do whatever we can to encourage the further growth of these businesses,” said Rep. Ramos in a release.
Craft brewers currently provide an estimated 108,000 jobs nationally and the industry has seen double digit growth over much of the last decade, with more breweries operating in 2012 than at any time since the 1880s.
Locally, Montage Cafe in Greenville current carries 70 styles of beer, and would carry new higher proof beverages based on customer demand.
“Let the consumer decide with his wallet,” said Co-Owner Aaron Cox. “What’s the difference between that and a cordial or a Bailey’s or something like that? The products are already out there with that level of alcohol, and they’re already available in grocery stores, so I don’t see what the difference is really.”
If H.B. 391 moves forward, Cox said he’d likely carry a few high alcohol content beers initially so that customers would be able to try out the new product, even if it was a novelty.
“I think there would definitely be a market for it. It’s no different than wine, which you can buy wine at over 15 percent,” said Cox, who said he’d prefer less legislation restricting a free market economy.
The craft beer section at Eikenberry’s IGA in Greenville has also experienced recent success by offering its customers a variety of choices, and the legislation could open up the grocer’s shelves to even more styles.
“I’m not sure what our demand would be, but I can tell you that our craft beer sales have gone up substantially and continue to do so. So there’s definitely a market,” said Eikenberry’s IGA General Manager Mark Davis said. “I’m all for selling anything my customers may want.”
To target Ohio’s brewers for further economic development, the bill calls for a one-year delay period to allow in-state businesses to create products in the 12-21 percent category in order to compete with out-of-state breweries that sell similar products.
“With other higher-proof options already available on Ohio’s store shelves, often at a cheaper cost to the consumer, this archaic government regulation just doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Ramos. “It needlessly holds back Ohio brewers from having the freedom to experiment with new products, a restriction not faced by brewers in neighboring states.”
Nationally, fewer than 10 states limit the allowable ABV in beer and of Ohio’s neighboring states, only West Virginia has a set maximum. Under current Ohio law, beer produced or sold in the state is restricted to 12 percent ABV. Ohio last raised its ABV cap in 2002, from 6 percent to 12 percent alcohol by volume.
This legislation was first introduced for consideration in 2011, with eight co-sponsors. Since that time, the legislation has gained increased bipartisan support, with 20 co-sponsors from all parts of the state.