Ohio liquor legislation could remove production limits from micro-distilleries, allow free samples

A bill that would make changes to Ohio liquor laws passed through an Ohio House committee and is expected to advance to the House floor.

House Bill 86 would remove the limit on how much spirituous liquor currently licensed micro-distilleries in the state can produce each year, meaning existing Ohio micro-distilleries could produce more than 100,000 gallons annually.

Belle of Dayton distillery co-owner Mike LaSelle said smaller distillery businesses would have the potential to increase their production and make steps toward further growth if production limits were removed.

Micro-distilleries are liquor production companies that have an A-3a permit through the state’s department of liquor control. They can also sell bottles of their products at their facilities to personal customers.

The law change would only apply to businesses that currently have an A-3a permit. The limit would still exist for new distilling businesses that get a permit after the bill goes into effect.

In addition to Belle of Dayton, Montgomery County is home to three other facilities that have this class of permitting: Buckeye Vodka, Hall Brothers Distillery and Dayton Barrel Works, according to the state’s department of liquor control.

There are four A-3a license holders in Miami County, three in Butler County, one in Greene County and none in Clark, Champaign or Warren counties.

LaSelle said that his and his brother’s business is growing and not yet at the threshold for liquor production under current law, but he said Ohio businesses like his that may want to grow past that threshold could benefit from the bill.

Leaders of Dayton-area Buckeye Vodka said that under current law, once a distillery exceeds production of 100,000 gallons, it loses its rights to sell bottles at its facility.

“That would change the financial equation as it pertains to any distillery tours or on-site events,” said Seth Warren of Buckeye Vodka. “When people visit our distillery, whether local or more than often out-of-state, they want to buy our bottles, it’s part of the customer experience.”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce testified in favor of the bill last week.

“It helps to ensure Ohio does not lose any of our great craft distillers to those other states who have increased production limits,” said Justin Barnes, the director of workforce, small business and technology policy for the Ohio commerce chamber.

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce echoed this.

“The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce supports pro-business legislation that removes government barriers for our region’s businesses,” said Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the chamber. “Removal of the cap would allow our local distilleries to invest more in their Dayton area operations and the State of Ohio.”

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Twp., passed the House Commerce and Labor Committee last week. It’s a reintroduction of a bill that failed to pass in the Ohio House last year.

The bill would also remove the 50-cent liquor sample cost requirement and allow liquor agency stores with certain permitting to offer consumable samples on-site, as well as remove grains of paradise from the list of substances that are prohibited for liquor use.

State law places limits on the number of samples per person — no more than four samples of ¼ ounces each — and the length and frequency of tasting events.

“Tastings are an extremely effective way to encourage responsible adult consumers to try and ultimately choose new beverage alcohol products, as well as to select existing brands that may be new to these consumers,” said Distilled Spirits Council of the United States senior vice president Andy Deloney during testimony last week.

There are currently more than 15,000 distilled spirits products on the market nationwide, according to Deloney.

“This bill reemphasizes my priority of making Ohio the most business-friendly state and will continue to help pandemic recovery for small businesses who are still finding ways to make up for lost revenue,” said LaRe in a statement.

State Rep. Tim Barhorst, R-Fort Loramie, whose district covers Shelby and Champaign counties, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

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