June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Proposed bill would boost maximum alcohol volume in craft beer

Legislation under consideration in Columbus that would allow Ohio beers to boost their alcohol content would benefit the state’s growing craft brewing industry, according to Matt Kiene, co-owner of Lagerheads BBQ Smokehouse and Brewery, Medina County’s only microbrewery.

“It would just give our company more options and opens the door for new styles of beer,” he said. “We’d have more ways to distinguish ourselves.”

Lager Heads Brewing Co.’s limited-release, L.H. Bourbon Belgian Tripple is aged five months. It has a fruity and floral aroma with hints of oak, sweet pear and vanilla. It’s available only at the pub in 12-ounce snifters. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Lager Heads Brewing Co.’s limited-release, L.H. Bourbon Belgian Tripple is aged five months. It has a fruity and floral aroma with hints of oak, sweet pear and vanilla. It’s available only at the pub in 12-ounce snifters. (COURTESY PHOTO)

House Bill 391, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, would increase the maximum percentage from 12 percent to 21 percent by volume for beers produced and sold in the state.

Ohio last raised the limit on alcohol in beer — from 6 percent to 12 percent — in 2002.

Ramos reintroduced the bill last month after first submitting it in 2011 during the last General Assembly. He said raising the cap would help spur economic development in Ohio’s growing craft-beer industry.

“The brewing industry is one of the few sectors that continued to experience growth through the recession,” he said. “It is time Ohio abandons unnecessary regulations that put us at a competitive disadvantage with other states.”

Craft brewers, also called microbrewers, typically are small, locally owned breweries that produce specialty beers in limited amounts.

Ramos said craft brewers now provide an estimated 108,000 jobs nationally and the industry has seen double digit growth over much of the last decade, with more breweries operating in 2012 than at any time since the 1880s.

Ramos described the 12 percent alcohol limit as an “archaic government regulation.”

“It needlessly holds back Ohio brewers from having the freedom to experiment with new products — a restriction not faced by brewers in neighboring states,” he said.

Nationally, fewer than 10 states limit the allowable alcohol by volume in beer, he said. Of Ohio’s neighboring states, only West Virginia has a set maximum.

The bill is drawing some criticism.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine cautioned legislators to go slow and to research how raising the alcohol percentage might effect drunk driving.

“I would like to see what other states have done and what their experience has been,” DeWine said.

Marcie Seidel, executive director of the Drug Free Action Alliance, flatly opposed raising the limit, arguing that some people could end up drinking more alcohol, “thinking they are only drinking one drink when really it’s the equivalent of two or three (current) beers.”

Lagerheads’ Matt Kiene said that argument ignores the fact that craft beers are much more expensive than typical American mass-produced brews.

“The typical younger consumers probably wouldn’t want to pay the premium price,” Kiene said. “It would be more for the connoisseur and craft beer enthusiasts who would be willing to pay for it.”

Lagerheads, in York Township, this month released a Belgian Tripple, aged five months in bourbon barrels, that weighs in at about 11 percent alcohol. It’s available only at the brewery in 12-ounce “snifters” at a price of $6.25 a glass.

Higher alcoholic beers likely would cost more.

Kiene also noted that hard liquor can be less expensive.

“A cheap bottle of 80 proof vodka can be had for 10 bucks,” he said.

Locally owned and operated, Lagerheads is typical of the more than 100 microbreweries in Ohio. Located at 2832 Abbeyville Road in a 19th-century farm, it’s the only microbrewery in Medina County.

Kiene, 42, and his brother, Jon, 43, both of Medina Township, opened Lagerheads as a restaurant in 2004 and added the microbrewery in 2010.

“We both love craft beer,” Matt Kiene said. “We both did a little home brewing, but we found it was best to leave it to the experts.”

Kiene said their head brewer, Tom Robbins, worked for the Thirsty Dog microbrewery in Akron for several years.

While love of beer was the inspiration for starting their microbrewery, Kiene said it also has been an business success.

“We had a banner year in 2013,” he said. “We’ve grown about 50 percent a year.”

In addition to brewery sales, Lagerheads includes Bed Head Red ale, which also is bottled.

“We distribute to about half of Ohio right now,” Kiene said. “This year were hoping to get into Cincinnati and Dayton.

“When that happens, we’ll have distribution in all the major cities.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.