Ohio is getting even more craft beer friendly. The state legislature last week quietly approved creating a new liquor permit for breweries that make less than 31 million gallons a year. The new permit, called an A-1c, lowers the annual licensing fee for brewers from $3,906 to $1,000.
"It’s certainly good news," said Eric Bean, owner of Columbus Brewing Co. in Columbus and head of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. "Almost all of our members are in a growth phase right now and any money we can reinvest in our business, that’s great."
There are only two, and perhaps three, breweries in Ohio that make more than 31 million gallons annually: Anheuser-Busch InBev in Columbus, MillerCoors in Trenton and possibly the Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati, which was closing in on that number a few years ago.
The legislation, called Senate Bill 48, was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate. It now awaits Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
The new permit caught the craft industry by surprise. Several brewers said they were unaware that it was being considered. But how would they? The A-1c permit language wasn’t in the original bill — which focused on allowing liquor permits to be transferred as part of economic development projects — when it was introduced in February. Instead, the language was slipped in at the last minute.
Senate Bill 48 also includes several other interesting provisions. One allows brewers to open a tasting room within a half-mile of their production facilities. Another clarifies language that continues to prohibit large brewers from owning distributors. (Anheuser-Busch owns a distributorship in Canton and that relationship will be allowed to continue.)
The Wholesale Beer & Wine Association of Ohio supported the changes.
"We were happy to help the craft brewers," association spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said about the permit issue.
The new permit is expected to cost the state about $250,000 in revenue, according to a report by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
The Ohio Division of Liquor Control referred questions to bill sponsor Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lowering the licensing fee is one of the latest moves at the state level that is helping craft brewers. For example, last year, the state started allowing brewers to open tasting rooms so people can sample their beer on premise without buying a separate $3,906 license.