Monday, July 08, 2002

More kick coming soon to beers in Ohio

Governor's signature on bill will permit higher alcohol content

By Leo Shane III
Gannett Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio's selection of beers is about to get better — and stronger.

        A bill awaiting the governor's signature would allow the production and sale of beers with higher alcohol contents. That, in turn, would allow microbreweries and major distribution companies to offer a wider variety of brews.

        The bill would chiefly affect a number of imports and specialty beers, such as Sam Adams Winter Lager, which has a 6.9 percent alcohol content.

        Under current law, beer must contain less than 6 percent alcohol by volume to be produced or sold in Ohio. Nearly all widely distributed American beers contain 4 to 5 percent alcohol.

        Gov. Bob Taft has no objections to the bill, said his spokesman, Joe Andrews. The governor is reviewing the legal wording to ensure it has no unintended consequences. The new measure would define brews up to 12 percent alcohol by volume as sellable beers.

        The Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, which pushed for the measure, said the move is about updating old, Prohibition-style laws.

        “Now you will see more selections offered to the customer,” said Jacob Evans, director of governmental affairs for the association. “It's such a select few, but this brings in more of the target beers for buyers.”

        Collin McDowell, general manger at Rock Bottom Brewery in Cincinnati, said the new law will affect his restaurant only slightly.

        “There may be a couple of extra specialty beers, like an English cider, that the style dictates a higher alcohol content,” Mr. McDowell said.

        “Our mainstay beers wouldn't taste the same (with a higher alcohol content). And we're very conscious of responsible alcohol consumption,” he said.

        Mr. McDowell said any English cider and barley beer his restaurant might brew after the law change would have an alcohol content of about 8.9 percent.

        “We would never go all the way to 12 percent on any of our beers,” he said.

        D.J. Homan, general sales manager for Heidelberg Distributing Co. in Cincinnati, said the law change might affect imported beers but probably won't mean much to the Budweisers of the world.

        “A lot of foreign beers have an alcohol content that is much higher,” Mr. Homan said. “But all Bud is brewed to taste the same, so I don't see how it would make a difference there. But it's too soon to say for sure.”

        Jim Leverentz, who owns a brewing ingredients store and founded the Route 82 Home Brewers Association, said beer connoisseurs he knows often seek out high-alcohol European concoctions in neighboring states because of their uniqueness.

        “These aren't the kind of beers where you'd sit down and have a six-pack,” he said. “They often come in 7-ounce bottles and go great in a brandy glass with a cigar in one hand.”

        Members of his group, based outside of Cleveland, enjoy the high-alcohol brews so much they plan periodic bus trips across the Ohio border to pick up a case or two of their favorites.

        “A number of Michigan breweries make good (high-alcohol) beers, so we'll take road trips there,” Mr. Leverentz said. “The people who like them will do whatever it takes to get them.”

        Mr. Evans isn't predicting any massive imported beer buying binge but noted that it will keep those specialty sales inside Ohio.

        The bill also updates several liquor sales enforcement laws and allows precincts near major sports arenas to allow Sunday sales of alcohol to begin as early as 10 a.m., if approved through special elections.

        The House approved the measure in March, and the Senate OK'd the proposal earlier this month. No date has been set for the governor's stamp of approval.

       Dan Klepal of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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