Legislation would allow higher alcohol content for craft beers
TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News
Published: June 13, 2012
A bill that would increase the maximum alcohol content allowed in beer is gaining some momentum in the legislature.
“Ohio’s policy is lagging in comparison to its neighbor states and we are missing an opportunity to allow further growth in our successful craft brewing industry,” said Rep. Dan Ramos, sponsor of House Bill 356.
The bill, which was introduced into the Ohio General Assembly in October, had its first hearing before the House State Government and Elections committee this week.
Under current state regulations, beer produced or sold in Ohio is restricted to 12 percent alcohol by volume, while all other types of alcohol, not relegated to sale in state liquor stores, have a 21 percent cap.
HB 356 would raise the ABV allowable in beer to 21 percent. The increase would not apply to beers containing caffeine or other stimulants, including guarana, ginseng or taurine.
The bill specifies that the proposed ban against the use of stimulants in beer that contains an ABV higher than 12 percent would not apply to beer that has incidental amounts of caffeine from coffee, chocolate or tea.
Ramos, D-Lorain, said the passage of HB 356 would allow “greater room for growth and additional flexibility to Ohio’s growing craft brewing community.”
“In 2002, Ohio raised the allowable alcohol by volume content from 6 percent to 12 percent. Following this change, the craft brewing industry in Ohio began what has become a decade of rapid growth,” he said, noting that Ohio was dubbed “The Munich of the Midwest” earlier this year by The Associated Press.
Ramos said the craft brewing industry is one of the few within the state growing at double-digit rates.
“The ABV limit 10 years ago was, quite simply, a burden that stifled Ohio’s brewing industry. By lifting this burden, we allowed Ohioans to create and produce a new niche market based on an attention to detail and the quality of their product while giving consumers greater choices in the marketplace,” he said.
Signing the proposed legislation into law would not only impact existing Ohio breweries but Ramos said it could make the state more attractive for other companies looking to expand into the Midwest.
“Despite the success of the last 10 years, Ohio is currently the outlier in our region,” he said. “Of the states that border Ohio, three have no limit on alcohol content in beer and one other has a limit of 21 percent. HB 356 is not overly explorative, it is not unprecedented and there is little reason to believe that we will have major adverse consequences if we pass this bill.”
The lawmaker said he understands there will be some concern that passing the bill could lead to increased rates of substance abuse.
“I have good reason to believe this will not be the case,” Ramos said. “Craft beer is designed, produced and consumed by a niche market.”
Ramos said the cost of producing a craft beer of high alcohol content is more prohibitive than other options, such as liquor. In having talks with members of the industry, he said he’s learned that to produce a beer that contains 20 percent alcohol, the brewer would need around 1,800 pounds of malt for a 450-gallon system.
“The massive amount of resources required inherently raises the cost of the final product,” he said. “In states that allow higher content beer to be produced and sold, it is not uncommon to see the cost of a six-pack exceed $15.”
Ramos said that under HB 356’s provisions, bar patrons could see costs of a 14-15 percent beer fall at $10-$11 per bottle or $6-$8 per draft.
“Simply put, the chemistry behind brewing does not easily allow for high-alcohol content beers to be produced and, thus, would not allow these beers to be produced, or consumed, cheaply,” he said.
The bill’s ban against stimulants in beers with a higher alcohol content would not “reopen the doors to the sort of devastating products we saw spread across college campuses in recent years,” Ramos said.
“Furthermore, because of the cost of craft beers, it is even more unlikely that a college student would choose a $15 six-pack when the same amount of money would purchase a 30-pack of light beer or a bottle of 80 proof liquor, already readily available in our state,” he said.
In preparing the proposed legislation, Ramos said he received positive feedback from brewery associations, individual brewers and associations of home-brewers across Ohio.
“The craft brewing industry is growing and coming into its own in our country,” he said. “I believe that passage of HB 356 will show Ohio’s brewers that we are serious about keeping Ohio’s industry strong. Just as importantly, it will show the rest of the country that Ohio is open for business and willing to create a more business-friendly environment that will allow them to expand here at the speed of business.”
HB 356 is backed by Reps. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, Michael Henne, R-Clayton, John Adams, R-Sidney, Ron Young, R-Leroy, Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, Michael Ashford, D-Toledo, Zack Milkovich, D-Akron, and Tom Letson, D-Warren.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for additional hearings.
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