Ohio craft brewers are hoping a new state law signed Wednesday will help boost beer tourism and bring breweries more in line with wineries.
The law allows production breweries to open tasting rooms and sell their beer by the glass without buying a second, costly permit.
That requirement — a $3,906 annual commitment — had deterred many small production breweries from opening their facilities to the public.
With many new breweries ready to start making beer in Ohio within the next year, the change is being hailed a boon to the industry.
Ohio wineries, which had no such restriction, have flourished by marketing themselves as tourist destinations and creating wine trails where visitors can bounce from one winery to the next and sample products.
“It’s a great day for Ohio microbreweries and the Ohio craft brewing industry because it allows microbreweries to showcase their products in a relaxed setting and put us on par with the wineries,” said Chris Verich, owner and manager of brewing operations at Ohio Brewing Co.
His brewery, located in the Selle Generator Works building downtown, will open a tasting room, he said.
Black Box Brewing in Westlake, Indigo Imp Brewery in Cleveland, Wooden Shoe Brewing in Minster, Mt. Carmel Brewing in suburban Cincinnati, Listermann Brewing in Cincinnati and Neil House Brewery in Columbus are among the breweries also looking to open tasting rooms. The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich, takes effect in 90 days.
“The wheels have always been rolling when it comes to the idea of building a tasting room, but we couldn’t justify the cost of the license,” Mt. Carmel assistant brewer Patrick Clark said in an email. “To those who have come for our tours, our saving grace has always been the depth of the explanation of our brewing.
“But let’s be honest — tasting is the most important part of the process. We can now offer the full Mt. Carmel experience.”
Brewers have long lamented they face restrictions and higher fees not imposed on wineries in Ohio. They have pointed to the inequity involving the sampling issue, and the cost of an annual brewing license ($3,906) compared to an annual wine license ($76).
Tired of waiting for the law to change, Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron last year opened a tasting room and paid for the extra permit. Co-owner John Najeway said he’ll now be able to invest that nearly $4,000 into the brewery and its employees.
State Rep. Casey Kozlowski, R-Pierpont, who co-sponsored the bill, said he sees plenty of potential for economic development with the growing craft beer industry, especially given the popularity of wine tourism. The state-run Ohio Grape Industries Committee estimates Ohio wineries and festivals attract more than 2 million visitors each year.
“Why can’t we see the same thing with the microbreweries?” Kozlowski asked.
The brewery issue was an amendment on the bill, known as House Bill 243. State Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, had made the original proposal.
“If you go to a vineyard, you can buy a glass of wine, but if you go to a brewery, you can’t buy a sample of their product. That just isn’t fair,” Sykes said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. “With so many microbreweries in Ohio, I want to let them showcase their product for people who visit the place where it is made.”
The main focus of House Bill 243 was on micro-distilleries.
The state now will allow more micro-distilleries — businesses producing less than 10,000 gallons a year — to open. Previously, only three micro-distillery licenses were available, and they were restricted to Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties.
The state wants to provide an opportunity for artisan distillers and brewers to create and grow their businesses, said Lyn Tolan, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the Division of Liquor Control.
Those businesses tend to use and rely on local products “and that’s exciting when it can all happen here in Ohio,” she said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his beer blog at www.beer.ohio.com.