OH - Beer-alcohol limit increase proposed
Beer-alcohol limit increase to 21 percent proposed by State Rep. Ramos of Lorain
By Marc Bona, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A state representative from Lorain has re-introduced legislation to allow brewers to make and sell beer that contains as much as 21 percent alcohol – a huge increase from Ohio's current 12 percent limit.
State Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) re-introduced the legislation this week. It's not a recent idea; Ramos first introduced the bill in 2011.
"We've been talking with a lot of folks, both in the brewing community and surrounding industry, but also in the legislature," he told The Plain Dealer. "The amount of support has been growing."
That support has manifested itself in bipartisan backing: 21 members are on the bill – 12 Democrats and nine Republicans.
"More and more people I talk to realize this is about leveling the playing field for these businesses so they can compete with what's going on in other states."
Ohio has more than 100 breweries. Ramos' office says craft brewers provide about 108,000 jobs nationally, with the industry seeing double-digit growth in recent years. More breweries were operating in 2012 than at any time since the 1880s.
It's that economic growth that fueled Ramos' push to increase the limit with the bill.
"My hope is that it will have a decent shot," he said. "It's very bipartisan, it is a pro-business bill, and frankly there is a growing support from legislators on both sides of the aisle because it is a growing industry.
"I heard from a lot of folks in the brewing industry – [Akron brewer] Thirsty Dog was very interested early on, [and] Winking Lizard folks. But since we have started looking into this, there has been a lot of support from brewers, distributors and frankly from the consumer."
Ramos continued: "As I understand it, there are a lot of specialty stores just across the border from Cincinnati and Toledo." Tuesday, he said, a consumer contacted him, saying 'I hate having to spend my money out of state.'
For brewers, a higher alcohol limit widens possibilities. So when Dan Malz of Portside Distillery in Cleveland heard of the potential increase, his brewing wheels started spinning.
"To increase the alcohol limit to – what, 21?– yowzers," he said. "Anything that removes limitations on my craft, I am open."
Malz – who doesn't shy from using creative ingredients such as syrup or dandelion in fermentation – mulled what he could brew with a higher limit.
"Perhaps some kind of American Strong Ale – how about a Cleveland strong ale? There's a lot of interesting yeasts out there that kind of drive the alcohol up."
Alcohol content is derived from the breakdown of soluble sugars in the brewing process. One of the highest-alcohol beers on the market is Utopias, a special brandy-like brew from Boston Beer Co., which is known for its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The limited-edition Utopias comes in a brew kettle-shaped bottle and weighs in around 27 percent alcohol.
Alcohol content in beer ranges widely. Radlers - extremely low-alcohol, refreshing beers that taste like soda yet are not overly sweet – hover around 2.5 percent. But imperial stouts, Barleywine ales and other styles can hit double digits.
If passed, the legislation could increase the offerings from out-of-state brewers on Ohio shelves.
Schmaltz Brewing Co., of San Francisco and Clifton Park, N.Y., takes a happy-go-lucky approach to its label names; one of its kosher offerings is He-Brew, The Chosen Beer, a moderate-alcohol beer that is available on store shelves in Northeast Ohio from time to time. But Jewbelation – which emphasizes the importance of number 13 in the Judaic culture – was not available here when it was released a few years ago. It is a potent 13 percent alcohol.
Ramos remains optimistic: "My hope is early in the new year, when we start up, hopefully it will be assigned to [House] committee."
Maybe, just maybe, a thankful brewer will name a beer after Ramos. Assistant Minority Whip Wheat?
"Well, I can't speak to that," said Ramos, who describes himself as more of a hophead. "I don't know what the selling powers of that would be."