Beer Buzz Would Get a Big Boost from GOP bill

Written by Alan Johnson for The Columbus Dispatch

Ohioans could buy beer with a whopping 18 percent alcohol content under a provision in the state budget proposed yesterday by Senate Republicans.

Boston Brewing, the parent of Sam Adams, makes a beer called Utopias with 27 percent alcohol (price: $150 for a 24-ounce bottle).

After holding the line on alcohol content in beer for 69 years, lawmakers might be poised to increase it for the second time in a decade. The limit was increased in 2002 to 12 percent from 6 percent, where it had been since the end of Prohibition in 1933.

The alcohol boost in 2002 was promoted by a coalition of statewide distributors and microbrewers.

This time, state Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Albany, proposed the amendment after talking to the owners of Jackie O’s Brew Pub in Athens.

“They as well as other small breweries would be very excited about making some products on a limited basis with a higher alcohol content,” said Stewart, noting that Athens also features a number of Ohio-brewed beers at its annual Beer Week each July.

“This is a very small niche market and very expensive craft beers that are more for the aficionados.”

Stewart said a fair number of states have no limit on alcohol content in beer, or have limits at 18 percent or higher. Indiana’s, he said, is 21percent.

Stacey Frohnapfel Hasson of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services said the agency does not have an official position on the beer amendment.

“People of drinking age are expected to maintain a sense of responsibility for themselves,” she said. “For underage drinkers, who for the most part are binge drinkers, having higher alcohol means they just get in trouble faster.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine has been going after manufacturers of malt beverages with high alcohol content, saying that drinking one can is the equivalent of consuming a six-pack of beer.

Eric Bean, brewmaster at Columbus Brewing Co., said it’s unlikely many Ohio craft brewers would venture into making beer that strong. He said there may be only 30 or 40 beers out of thousands in the world with that high alcohol content.

However, one of the brewers is Boston Brewing, the parent of Sam Adams, which has a brewery in Cincinnati. Boston Brewing makes a beer called Utopias with 27 percent alcohol (price: $150 for a 24-ounce bottle).

“Those numbers are for craft brews you’re going to sit and enjoy,” Bean said. “You’re not going to drink a six-pack of it. You might split a bottle between three guys. At 12 percent, you’re pushing the limits of drinkability,” he added.

Most national brands of beer have 3 to 5 percent alcohol. Columbus Brewing’s beers average 6 percent, although same are in the 10to 11 percent range, Bean said.

Jason Fabian of Barley’s Brewing Co. said he generally favors “expanding limits to have the flexibility to get creative. But we’re in no way endorsing that high-alcohol beer is better beer.”

Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story

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