Ohio removes alcohol content cap on beer

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Back in the day, Jim Gokenbach drank Bud Light, but he said drinking a craft beer changed his perspective.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is beer?’” Gokenbach said. “It was really good and it was like, if other people made beer like that, I would drink it.”

Gokenbach is one of the owners of Zaftig Brewing Company in Worthington. The company specializes in what Gokenbach calls “high-gravity beers,” or beers with a high alcohol content.

In May, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that eliminated the maximum permitted alcohol content of beer. The law goes into effect Wednesday, repealing the 12 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) limit in the state of Ohio.

“Our breweries are delighted,” said Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. “It was really a consumer-driven issue. There are a lot more consumers who are really excited about the opportunity to get higher ABV beers in Ohio that, previously, they had to drive to Michigan or Indiana or Kentucky to get.”

While there are nearly 180 breweries in the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, MacDonald said only about ten percent of those plan to make beers that exceed the 12 percent ABV mark.

“In the past, a brewery might be creating a Russian imperial stout is a popular one, or an imperial IPA that was going to go over the 12 percent limit just by again, the science of what the yeast does when it’s eating up the sugars,” MacDonald said. “And they might have to actually water down that beer or blend it with another beer in order to legally sell it in Ohio, and now they don’t have to do that. It’s just another tool in their toolkit of creating unusual, unique, flavorful beers that they don’t have to artificially keep them below a certain limit.”

Cheryl Harrison, the editor of Drink Up Columbus, said that while the news was more exciting for beer drinks than brewers, it would still be beneficial to brewers.

“It reduces a little bit of the risk for the brewers if they’re trying to make a barrel-aged beer where they don’t necessarily know the gravity that that beer’s going to come out at,” Harrison said.

Harrison said she’ll likely try the higher-alcohol beer soon.

“There’s some midnight tappings [Tuesday night] of Dogfish Head 120 Minute, which is definitely one of those out-of-state coveted beers that people are looking for,” Harrison said.

Another one of the breweries that is creating a higher-alcohol beer is Zaftig. Gokenbach said Zaftig has planned an event for Sunday, September 4, where brewers will sell pours of five ounces for $6 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“A 16 percent Russian imperial stout—we’re calling it Ol’ Harvey right now,” Gokenbach said.

Gokenbach described the process of brewing “big beers” like Ol’ Harvey as “big risk, big reward” because it’s labor- and ingredient-intensive, from grain to yeast.

“We put a lot more grain into a batch of beer and then we usually boil longer to evaporate the water,” Gokenbach said. “If we brew that beer and something goes wrong with it, that’s a big cost to us. It’s a $5,000 to $7,000 cost for just ten barrels of that beer, versus one of our normal beers—we can make 20 barrels of that beer for the same thing.”

In addition to removing the cap on ABV in beer, the new law also allows people to drink beer or liquor at the North Market without breaking the law.

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