OH - Beer bill would allow sale, production of high-alcohol brews
By Will Drabold
The Columbus Dispatch • Saturday January 18, 2014
A few times a year, Mike Cilfone can be found just inside Kentucky near Cincinnati, looking to buy booze. Cilfone, 32, of Columbus, isn’t looking for whiskey or bourbon; he drives more than two hours for beer — often with a proof equal to some liquors — that is not sold in Ohio.
For Rep. Dan Ramos, a Democrat from Lorain, west of Cleveland, that story is too common, so he recently introduced House Bill 391 to make Cilfone’s drink of choice legal for production and sale in Ohio.
The “Ohio Beer Bill” would increase the maximum percentage of alcohol allowed in beer sold or produced in the state from 12 to 21 percent. That would bring it line with alcoholic beverages like wine.
Beer enthusiasts and Ohio businesses would benefit from the bill’s passage, supporters say. Cilfone alone has spent up to $250 on “once in a lifetime,” high-alcohol beer in one trip to Kentucky.
Collin Castore, a partner of Seventh Son Brewing in Columbus, said, “It has never made any sense to me that wine has no similar cap or that you can buy inexpensive, poor-quality alcohol at any grocery that is around 20 percent, but flavorful, innovative high-gravity beers are banned.”
In 2012, 58 Ohio craft brewers produced an estimated 980,696 barrels of beer — fourth nationally and 7 percent of national production — bringing $1.2 billion to the state economy, said Mary Martineau, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.
If passed, sales of beer with an alcohol percentage between 12 and 21 would begin a year after the bill’s passage; brewing could begin immediately. Beer over 12 percent alcohol could not have caffeine or other stimulants in it.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican who has expressed concern over similar legislation in the past, said he has no official stance on this bill, but he hopes the legislature will consider how raising the alcohol percentage could affect drunk driving.
“I would like to see what other states have done and what their experience has been,” DeWine said.
“It’s about leveling the playing field with other states,” Ramos said. “A lot of breweries in Ohio find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”
In October 2011, Ramos introduced a bill similar to H.B. 391 with eight other legislators supporting him. It did not move out of committee. This time, Ramos has 20 co-sponsors — 11 Democrats and nine Republicans.
Beer sold with 12 percent alcohol or higher makes up about 2 percent of the craft-beer market, but it is some of the finest beer brewed, said Paul Gatza, director of the National Brewers Association, an advocate for craft-beer producers and sellers based in Boulder, Colo.
Such beers are typically consumed an ounce or two at a time and not over a short period of time, he said.
Marcie Seidel, executive director of the Drug Free Action Alliance, a statewide group based in central Ohio, said the law should not change.
“The problem that we’re concerned about … (is people) will be thinking they are only drinking one drink when really it’s the equivalent of two or three (normal) beers,” Seidel said.
Will Drabold is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.