Super-strong beer bill aims to keep Ohio shoppers in state

Inside Ohio microbrewer Rhinegeist...A bill before the state's House of Representatives aims to cut red tape for brewers (Picture: Rhinegeist)

Ohio is considering legislation supporters claim will slash red tape and allow brewers to produce and sell beer as strong as 21% ABV in the state.

State representative Dan Ramos re-introduced legislation just before Christmas aiming to spur development in Ohio’s beer industry and permit the stronger drinks.

“The brewing industry is one of the few sectors that continued to experience growth through the recession,” Ramos said.

Ohio has 100+ breweries and Ramos craft brewers provide 108,000 jobs across the US, while the beer industry has seen double-digit growth over the last decade with more breweries active in 2012 than in the 1880s.

Craft brewers feel competitive pressures

“It’s time Ohio abandons unnecessary regulations that put us at a competitive disadvantage with other states and do whatever we can to encourage the further growth of these businesses,” said Ramos, whose bill has support from state brewers such as Thirsty Dog.

Mary MacDonald, executive director, Ohio Craft Brewers Association, told that her association does not currently have an official position on the issue.

"A number of our members are independently supporting the legislation. There are certainly competitive pressures from surrounding states without similar ABV limitations. Our next board meeting is February 4. We will likely have a more formalized stance after that," she said.

‘Archaic regulation’ under attack

Fewer than 10 states in the US limit the ABV of beer and only West Virginia among the states neighboring Ohio has a maximum; Ohio itself raised its limit from 6-12% in 2002.

Ramos has warned that Ohio residents are shopping outside of the state, in beer stores across the border from cities such as Cincinnati (close to the Kentucky state line) and Toledo (close to Michigan) that can sell beers up to 21% ABV.

These higher proof options are already available to Ohio consumers, Ramos said, often at a cheaper price for the consumer.

“This archaic government regulation just doesn’t make sense,” Ramos said. “It needlessly holds back Ohio brewers from having the freedom to experiment with new products, a restriction not faced by brewers in neighboring states.”

9% ABV beer feels UK heat

The legislation has made slow progress in Ohio, since it was first introduced on October 26 2011 with strong bi-partisan support; a standing House committee will now consider the bill.

Along with the 12-21% ABV uplift, HB 356, which Ramos introduced with eight co-sponsors, also seeks to outlaw 12%+ beer with caffeine or other stimulants including guarana, ginseng or taurine.

This proposed prohibition is not intended to apply to beer with incidental amounts of caffeine from coffee, chocolate or tea.

We could not find any opposition to Ohio’s bill online, but amidst the trend in the US and Europe in particular towards greater beer variety (with strength one point of difference) it’s worth noting moves curb ‘super strength’ beer and cider sales on social and health grounds.

Aimed less at the craft segment, voluntary moves in the UK (East of England) from retailers like Co-op have seen products such as 9% ABV lager in 500ml cans removed from sale, as per Carlsberg Special Brew beer pictured in this article.

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