High-alcohol beers are still unwelcome in Ohio.
State lawmakers this week canned a budget provision that would have boosted the legal limit for beer from 12 percent to 18 percent.
The decision disappointed craft brewers and many beer drinkers who say the current restriction is unnecessary, considering there’s no similar limit on liquor.
“It’s a bummer that Ohio is missing out on some of those higher-end beer sales,” said Fred Karm, owner and brewer at Akron’s Hoppin’ Frog Brewery, which specializes in high-alcohol, big flavor beers. “That’s a niche that is not filled here in Ohio and my patrons will go out of the state to get those special beers.”
He had planned to produce some even bigger beers if allowed.
The change was included in the state budget bill, but was yanked at the last minute by a six-member conference committee of senators and representatives.
It’s unclear why.
Telephone messages left for Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, who chaired the committee, and Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, who were members, weren’t returned.
A staff member for state Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Albany, who proposed the change, said he didn’t know why the provision was removed.
Many surrounding states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota, have no cap. Indiana’s limit is 21 percent.
Some highly coveted beers — such as Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA at 15 to 20 percent alcohol and Samuel Adams Utopias at 27 percent alcohol — aren’t sold in Ohio.
John Najeway, president of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association and co-owner of Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron, said he didn’t understand the specific reason behind the decision but the provision was cut during negotiations.
“It was one of those things that nobody had passion to fight for,” he said.
Not everyone was upset, though.
“As for me, just an ordinary beer drinker, I could care less,” said Gary Sherck of Cleveland. “First, who really needs a high-alcohol content to enjoy craft beer? Not me, or, I suspect, many others.”
Meanwhile, brewers also were disappointed that another provision that would have allowed breweries to open tasting rooms without purchasing a separate, costly state license was removed from the budget bill.
Breweries are permitted to sell their beer to go, but people cannot drink the beer at the brewery unless the business buys a $3,906 serving license. That has stifled the ability of small production breweries to open tasting rooms.
Given the cost of a brewing license, brewers have argued for years that customers should be able to drink their beer at the brewery without the brewery having to pay for another license.
Rick Armon can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3569.