Here are the top 10 beer stories in Ohio this year, as voted on and ranked by me:
1. New license
Perhaps nothing impacted the Ohio craft beer industry more this year than state Senate Bill 48. Remember that one? It created a new liquor permit for breweries that make less than 31 million gallons of beer a year. The new permit, called an A1C, replaced the A1 permit for small brewers and reduced the annual licensing fee from $3,906 to $1,000. All of a sudden, it became much easier — at least financially — to launch a small brewery in the state.
2. Growth, growth, growth
Breweries continue to open in record numbers in Ohio. At last count, there were 90 breweries in the state, ranging from the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev plant in Columbus to nano operations such as Sugar Ridge Brewery in Bowling Green. The growth has been meteoric in Dayton and Cincinnati. Can this pace continue? We’ll see.
3. Great American Beer Festival
Ohio had its best showing at the Great American Beer Festival since 1999. Six craft breweries won medals this year, with Fat Head’s Brewery leading the way with three.
Fat Head’s, which has a brewpub in North Olmsted and a production brewery and tasting room in Middleburg Heights, won a gold medal for Hop JuJu, a silver for Trail Head, and a silver for Black Knight. Fat Head’s has now won eight medals at the event since 2009.
The other Ohio winners were:
• Samuel Adams Cincinnati brewery, a gold medal for Samuel Adams Double Bock.
• Yellow Springs Brewery in Yellow Springs, a silver for Smokin’ Handsome.
• Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. in Cincinnati, a silver for Christian Moerlein Emancipator.
• Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron, a bronze for Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher.
• Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland, a bronze for Progress Pilsner.
Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, which both have breweries in Ohio, also took home medals, including golds for Budweiser Select and Natural Ice, and a silver for Miller High Life.
Meanwhile, Rock Bottom Brewery, which has a location in Cincinnati, won the “Brewpub Group and Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year” award.
Hats off to MadTree Brewing in Cincinnati. It became the first craft brewery in Ohio to put its beer in cans. Gnarly Brown, Happy Amber and PsycHOPathy proved, as if it were still a question, that quality craft beer comes in a can. Jackie O’s in Athens soon followed with cans. If that weren’t enough, Buckeye Canning launched in the state and started visiting breweries such as Buckeye, Elevator, Maumee Bay and Rocky River and offering some of their brews in a can.
5. Happy birthday
It’s not every day that a brewery turns 25 years old. Wait. Back up. It sure seemed like a brewery turned 25 every single day this year. Deschutes. Goose Island. North Coast. Rogue. Vermont Pub & Brewery. And two Ohio operations marked the milestone: Great Lakes and Columbus. Great Lakes celebrated with special beers, including a collaboration with Deschutes, and a big public bash outside its brewery in Cleveland. Columbus didn’t celebrate at all. (Editor's note: Columbus owner and brewmaster Eric Bean, who wasn't with the brewery at its inception, says there is some question of whether Columbus actually started brewing in late 1988 or early 1989 and that's one of the reasons for not celebrating.)
6. Economic impact
Like it or not, beer is now a vital cog in the Ohio economy. Three studies came out this year highlighting the industry’s contribution:
• The Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association estimated that the Ohio beer industry, which includes Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors breweries, contributed $10 billion to the economy.
• The Brewers Association estimated the impact of craft beer alone at $1.2 billion.
• And the National Beer Wholesalers Association said beer distributors contribute $1.6 billion to the economy.
7. Beer buses
As the craft beer industry continues to grow, so does beer tourism. Entrepreneurs have stepped right in and there are now businesses in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus dedicated to taking beer fans on bus tours of area breweries. Interested? Check out the Cincy Brew Bus, Cleveland Beer Bus and Columbus Brew Adventures.
Each year, Ratebeer.com releases its list of the best breweries in the world. Not the best in Colorado. Or the best in the U.S. The best in the world. It’s all based on reviews and rankings by beer drinkers. Every year, three Ohio breweries rank among the 100 best on the planet. This year was no different: Hoppin’ Frog (17th), Great Lakes (35th) and Jackie O’s (97th).
9. Hello, New Belgium
New Belgium, the third-largest craft brewer in the U.S., started distributing in the state in December. Fans of Fat Tire rejoiced. Deschutes, the fifth-largest craft brewer, also announced that it will move into the state in January 2014, giving craft beer fans even more to rejoice about.
10. Hello, Mary Martineau
Ohio craft brewers have done a poor job promoting the industry here compared to their peers in other states. The Ohio Craft Brewers Association moved to correct that this year by hiring its first full-time executive director. Mary Martineau, who was marketing director for the North Market in Columbus, took over in August.
• Fat Head’s announces plans to open a brewpub in Portland, Ore., in 2014.
• Great Lakes is forced to change the name of its popular double IPA Alchemy Hour to Chillwave.
• Great Lakes brews an ancient beer based on a Sumerian recipe and garners international attention.
• Rare Brain Studios launches a documentary chronicling the journey of Lance Rice of Vermilion, an autistic man whose lifelong dream is to visit breweries and write a beer book.
• Ohio production breweries continue to open tasting rooms. Fat Head’s, Hoppin’ Frog, Jackie O’s and Elevator were among them this year.