House Bill 68 proposed to create jobs and encourage creativity for microbreweries in Ohio.
Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, has been trying to increase the alcohol by volume limit of beer for about four years now.
The bill he has introduced would increase the alcohol limit from 12 percent to 21 percent. House Bill 68 was introduced on Feb. 17 of this year and has various state sponsors, including Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, who represents Athens.
“What we’re finding out is that, basically, as brewers continue to expand in Ohio, as they continue to make more product, and basically continue to grow and create jobs and help our economy, that Ohio breweries are at a competitive disadvantage particularly if they want to go out of state,” Ramos said.
Ramos said beer is the only type of alcoholic beverage that has these specific limits, whereas the rest of the beverages have a blanket limit of alcohol by volume.
Last year the same bill under the name of House Bill 391 was introduced by Ramos, but it was not successful, according to previous Post report.
Phillips said what is promising this year as opposed to previous years is that there is bipartisan co-sponsorship.
For Athens specifically, Phillips said the higher limit will allow the several microbreweries to have more variability without going over the 12 percent limit.
“There’s hope that that flexibility will make it a little bit easier for the craft breweries and the microbreweries to flourish,” Phillips said.
Another clause in the bill states the beer which may contain higher than 12 percent alcohol by volume is prohibited from containing any kind of stimulants.
“There was some concern that some folks might try to use the new law as a way to basically create high-alcohol, high-caffeine type beverage, and that was never my intention,” Ramos said.
One of the breweries that went to Columbus to testify in favor of the bill was Jackie O’s Brewery, located on Campbell Street. Brewmaster Brad Clark said John Cliff, the director of sales, and a number of other brewers and retailers appeared to support the increased limit.
“Something as trivial as this, I think, is kind of silly,” Clark said. “We should be able to play around and do what other industries that are within the alcohol world are able to do.”
For Jackie O’s, Clark said if the bill isn’t passed it would be fine, but it is strange that it hasn’t passed yet.
“When it comes down to it,” Clark said. “Beers of that strength and that extreme breadth are about creativity and about pushing yourself and kind of blending, you know, like beer crossing over to wine strength or even of spirit strength.”
Marina Oney, an Ohio University senior studying integrated media, said for underage college students, having higher limit for beer may let them go a bit more crazy. For of-age drinkers, she said the alcohol content is more about preference.
“I think (the higher limit) will be cool for (Jackie O’s),” Oney said. “It’s kind of a more mature atmosphere here, I think and I don't think it will be abused here. I think it’ll be some really cool stuff they could create.”
Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said that most of the beer that is consumed by students and townspeople in general is not going to be affected by the bill. She added that the economic benefit is going to come from the breweries that use local ingredients and distribute their products locally rather than around the world.
“I think it more has to do with the craft beer renaissance that’s happening in Ohio,” Fahl said. “And Athens is certainly part of that, seeing how we have a lot more microbrews and taprooms.”
Though the businesses in Ohio won’t change that much if it isn’t passed, Ramos said the brewing industry has been growing even when the great recession happened and increasing the limit would create jobs and help local economies.
“There are over a hundred breweries in Ohio right now, which hasn’t been that way at least since prohibition," Ramos said. "Beer is good and beer is great, but jobs are essential and that’s really what this is about.”