For years, craft beer fan Eddie Martin found himself driving out of Ohio to find rare, high-alcohol brews that were banned in the state.
He couldn’t buy beers such as Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA or 3 Floyds Dark Lord here because they exceeded Ohio’s 12 percent limit.
But all that changes Wednesday, when a new state law that scraps Ohio’s cap goes into effect, meaning not only will some of those high-alcohol beers be available at retailers throughout the Buckeye State but Ohio breweries can make and sell them as well.
“I think it’s great,” Martin, 51, of North Canton said as he sipped a Vlad the Impaler imperial stout this week at Royal Docks Brewing Co. in Jackson Township. “It’s time for a change.”
Craft beer drinkers, retailers and breweries had been lobbying for years against the state limit, arguing that it put Ohio at a competitive disadvantage to surrounding states with no limit and stifled creativity.
The last time the limit was raised, it went from 6 percent to 12 percent in 2002.
With the craft beer industry booming — the Ohio Division of Liquor Control has issued more than 180 brewing permits — state legislators agreed earlier this year that the cap no longer makes sense, especially with no limit imposed on wine or liquor.
The Scottish brewery BrewDog’s decision to invest $32 million in building its U.S. headquarters and brewery in the Columbus suburb of Canal Winchester didn’t hurt, either. BrewDog is known for producing several higher alcohol beers.
“I don’t think it’s just good for our business. It’s good for beer,” BrewDog co-founder James Watt said about the change in the law.
State Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, who was instrumental in pushing the bill through the legislature visited Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron on Friday.
He presented the gavel used in the process and an official certificate to owner and brewer Fred Karm, who had been a big advocate for changing the law.
“I just didn’t see any reason to keep the limitation,” Faber said. “We don’t have similar limitations on wine or on spirits. I’m a free market person and to me this is a free market issue. We need to make sure that our guys can be competitive.”
Hoppin’ Frog, which has been rated as one of the best breweries in the world by RateBeer.com, focuses on higher alcohol beers with bold flavors.
“This is groundbreaking,” Karm said. “In the over 22 years that I’ve been brewing, we can now go the extra mile and spread our wings.”
Hoppin’ Frog will release the 13.8 percent T.O.R.I.S. the Tyrant, a triple oatmeal Russian imperial stout, in bottles and on draft Wednesday.
He said he’s looking forward to designing even more higher alcohol brews.
“Our goal is to always have one but I’d like to have more than one,” Karm said.
Thirsty Dog, Willoughby, Actual, Jackie O’s, Listermann and Zaftig are among the other Ohio breweries working on high-alcohol beers. (See separate story for more details.)
Craft beer drinkers, however, shouldn’t expect a flood of them.
For some breweries, they don’t fit their mission.
They are difficult, time-consuming and costly to produce — some of the reasons that there aren’t a ton of them on the market now.
They also are a niche product and expensive for consumers. The cost is one of the reasons that there weren’t major concerns about a potential problem with underage drinking.
The latest batch of Samuel Adams Utopias, released last year, was 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and cost $199 a bottle.
Meanwhile, Dogfish Head 120 Minute, sold in a 12-ounce bottle and with an ABV that ranges from 15 percent to 20 percent, is expected to sell for $10 to $15. The Milton, Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales already has announced that 120 Minute will be available in Ohio next week.
In many cases, these higher alcohol beers were designed to be sipped and shared, as opposed to be guzzled by one individual.
Brewers and other experts expect there to be a flurry of interest in high-alcohol beers as the law changes, with people wanting to try something that has been illegal here for years.
“Brewing beer has become more of an art form over the past eight or so years since this craft boom has taken off and this truly lets brewers be creative,” said Jon Albrecht, the beer buyer for Acme Fresh Market groceries.
Some craft beer drinkers equate price and ABV, meaning they may shy away from a lower alcohol beer because they don’t feel they are getting their moneys worth, said Dave Sutula, the brewmaster at Royal Docks.
“You can’t quantify flavor,” he said.
That’s one of the reasons he thinks people will want to try the higher alcohol beers.
His brewery jumped the state law early, with its 13.1 percent Vlad the Impaler now available on draft. The beer — just like higher alcohol beer served now at most bars and restaurants — is sold in a smaller glass, a 10-ounce snifter, for $7.50.
John Lane, one of the owners of the Winking Lizard Tavern chain and Lizardville Whiskey & Beer Stores, isn’t convinced that high-alcohol beers will be a big hit.
He believes it will be popular only among beer geeks.
“I don’t see the mainstream jumping onto it,” Lane said.
His Lizardville stores will stock 120 Minute.
Craft beer drinker and homebrewer Mike Yingling, 44, of Northfield is in favor of the limit being scrapped, but questions how often he will seek out a high-alcohol beer, knowing that he’s more concerned about hangovers as he gets older.
“And I want to be able to have more than just one beer,” he said.
He and others also wonder whether there will be a glut of poorly made high-alcohol beers on the market as Ohio breweries race to put one out.
“I’m real worried about it,” said Brad Clark, brewer at Jackie O’s Brewery in Athens. “There are just a small handful of people who will be able to pull it off. We may just have a sea of high-alcohol garbage.”