December 26, 2014

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Rep. Ramos’ bill seeks to raise alcohol limits in craft brews

LORAIN — A bill expected to be reintroduced into the Ohio Legislature in early 2014 looks to grow Ohio’s brewing industry by giving brewers the ability to increase the amount of alcohol in beer from 12 percent to 21 percent.

“Ohio is at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states,” state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, said Tuesday about the measure he plans to reintroduce come January.

Dan Ramos

Dan Ramos

“This is an industry with large growth at a time when so many industries have stagnated or shrunk in the recession,” Ramos said. “We want to make sure our folks in Ohio get a piece of the pie.”

Employing an estimated 108,000 people nationally, there are 2,500 craft brewers across America, with an estimated 1,500 brewers in the planning stages, according to CNBC figures cited by Ramos.

Allowing Ohio brewers to boost the percent of alcohol in beers by as much as 9 percent would put the state in a more attractive position when it comes to luring brewers looking to set up shop.

“Brewers look for good quality grains, which we have, as well as quality water and farmland, all of which we have in Ohio,” Ramos said.

The only nearby state with a similar limit is West Virginia.

“We’re one of very few states that has a cap on beer,” John Lane, owner of the 16 Northeast Ohio Winking Lizard Taverns, including one in Avon. “The state is missing out on tax dollars by having people go elsewhere.”

The 12 percent limitation on alcohol in beer prevents the sale of many popular specialty beers that are being increasingly requested by bar and restaurant customers, according to Lane.

“A lot of people cross state lines to get them,” Lane said.

Two of the most popular are 120 Minute and World Wide Stout, both brewed by Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery.

“They are extremely popular, and both are way over 12 percent,” Lane said.

Each brew is listed as having 15 to 20 percent, according to the company’s www.dogfish.com website.

“You can get them in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky,” Lane said.

Another local supporter of the measure is Buckeye Canning Systems, a small Amherst firm that began offering mobile canning and packaging services to breweries in September, according to its www.mobilecanningsystems.com website.

The firm presently works with breweries in the Columbus and Toledo areas as well as Yellow Springs in the Dayton area.

“A lot of brewers enjoy being able to set themselves apart … to push the envelope,” according to Buckeye Canning’s Dan Blatt, who co-owns the small firm with B.J. Solomon. “We’re talking about specialty beers to be enjoyed after dinner or with a cigar.”

Noting such beers are expensive to produce, Blatt said there isn’t much worry that such high-volume alcohol drinks would lead to any sizable increase in inebriated customers.

“They’re not widespread,” Blatt said. “An 18 percent beer isn’t for college kids to get drunk on.”

Lane agreed.

“These beers are very full-bodied,” Lane said. “You’re not talking about the same person who slugs a cheap bottle of wine. ‘World Wide Stout’ costs $7 to $8 for a 12-ounce bottle.”

Ramos first introduced the bill last year but it failed to find adequate support.

“I used it to get the conversation going and we had eight co-sponsors,” Ramos said. “Now we’re up to 21.”

Support is fairly evenly split with 12 Democrats and nine Republicans supporting the measure, Ramos said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.