Ohio brewers say business lost by alcohol cap

Springfield brewery still waiting on permits before production can begin.

Local brewery owners are welcoming a renewed effort that appears to be gaining momentum in the Statehouse to remove or raise the 12 percent alcohol cap on beers sold in Ohio, which they say causes lost business.

The Gongwer News Service has reported that a House panel approved a bill that would raise the allowable alcohol by volume (ABV) of beer sold in the state from 12 to 15 percent. Permit holders would have to post a note of caution to customers warning them that the products sold may contain up to 15 percent ABV.

Brew Master Kevin Loftis of Mother Stewart’s Brewing Co., the $2.5 million brewery under construction at 109 W. North St. in downtown Springfield, has no objections to increasing the ABV cap, but said he doesn’t typically brew beer above it.

“It’s a rare beer that’s drinkable, in my mind, when it’s that high,” Loftis said.

The current rules don’t need to be there, Loftis said. Sweden-based BrewDog, which has a Columbus brewery location in the works, often brews beers greater 12 percent ABV, he said.

“Ohio is realizing there’s just no reason to have that,” Loftis said.

Yellow Springs Brewery co-founder Nate Cornett said he too hopes legislation to lift the alcohol cap passes.

“We are one of the few states with a law like this,” Cornett said. “The state’s breweries are losing business because we can’t compete on the same playing field.”

The alcohol limit may have been one reason California-based Stone Brewing skipped over Ohio in favor of Virginia in 2014 when it was searching for a suitable location for a production brewery in the eastern half of the U.S.

While the Springfield brewery’s construction is about three weeks away from brewing beer, Loftis is waiting for his federal brewer’s permit to begin production, he said. Once that happens, a state permit will follow.

If the permits are approved quickly, production could begin in three weeks and the taproom could open in June, Loftis said. Without product, however, it’s difficult to do anything.

“We may literally be sitting around with no product and have no control over it,” Loftis said.

The construction process at the former Rhodes Paper Box building has gone smoothly, he said.

“Any old building will have its quirks and challenges from time to time,” Loftis said.

The bill’s primary focus is to allow some alcohol license holders to offer free samples under certain circumstances, but the proposal to raise the alcohol cap was attached to the bill as an amendment in the Ohio House committee.

The Ohio Senate may go a step further. Senate Chief of Staff Jason Mauk said late last week that state senators may seek to amend the proposal to lift the ABV limit on beer when the bill is sent to their side of the Ohio General Assembly.

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina who represents Champaign County, has expressed some support for the idea. Mauk said Faber believes the market should be able to determine what beer alcohol levels taste good enough to buy. There may be some effort to mark high ABV as “high alcohol content” on the label, Mauk said.

Previous legislative proposals in recent years — one of them reintroduced in the current Ohio General Assembly — would raise the alcohol cap on beer to 21 percent. Those bills attracted attention and some bipartisan support, but never made it into law.

Joe Waizmann, co-founder and president of Warped Wing Brewing Co. in downtown Dayton, favors eliminating the alcohol restriction on beer altogether, even though beers that are brewed with 12 percent or more alcohol “are extremely difficult to produce and represent a small fraction of total annual production” of the nation’s breweries.

“Any move to provide a broader range of beers to Ohioans would be a positive step,” Waizmann said.

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