Reporter’s Notebook: Ohio and Craft Beer

beer notebook_web2

This week I shared a post focusing on the interesting case of Ohio, which has become a surprising hot spot for craft beer. Consumer demand is way up in the Buckeye State, where supermarkets, bottle shops and distributors are seeing strong enough growth to liken some Ohio cities to beer destinations like Portland and San Diego.

In my reporting for the piece, I reached out to many people in Ohio to gain better context for some of the trends I was paying attention to from afar in North Carolina. While I was able to fit many details into Wednesday’s post, I wanted to share additional content that didn’t make the piece, but is interesting and important all the same.

So let’s flip back the cover and see what scribbled notes are worth another look.

What are people drinking?

What initiated the idea for the original post was news of craft beer’s strong rise in supermarkets – in 2014 sales growth of craft were double in Ohio compared to the U.S. average. I reached out to contacts at Kroger, one of the largest grocery chains in the state, to find out what craft beers were selling best, with an emphasis on local options.

I was told beer purchases for the stores are heavily driven by consumer demand, which in Cincinnati means strong interest in these breweries:

In Columbus area Krogers, these were highlighted:

Legislative changes

Multiple people highlighted changes in state law that have made it easier for the beer industry to flourish, especially for smaller, local breweries.

Rick Armon, a reporter with the Akron Beacon Journal who also writes The Beer Blog for Ohio.com, said growth for in-state beer industry can partially be attributed to the fact Ohio has simply made it easier to start a brewery.

“The license is much cheaper,” he said. “You can now open a tasting room without buying a second license. You can open a taproom with only one bathroom. Grocery stores now can also sell draft beer and that’s given an outlet for more craft beer to be sold. We’ve also seen a rise in growler-only shops.”

ohio-beer-headerSimilarly, Pat Woodward of Pat’s Pints said changing regulations was his top reason for such fast change – the number of breweries doubled from 2011 to 2014, and there are now with more than 100 in the state. Woodward added that laws are friendly to brewers who don’t bottle or can or even have a physical brewpub and that’s not stopping new breweries from finding places to sell their beer.

“Within two miles of my house there are three bonafide growler shops, one specialty market that sells growlers and an extensive selection of craft beers, two craft beer stores, and the local supermarket that has an extensive craft beer selection and also sells growlers,” he said.

Most important, Woodward said a 2002 law change to allow beer sold in Ohio to be above 6 percent ABV has really changed the landscape, allowing Ohio to “catch-up to reach it’s natural potential.”

That was the case here in North Carolina, where in 2005 a law was also lifted to allow for beer sold to be above 6 percent. Then between 2005 and 2014, the number of breweries quadrupled to more than 100.

Is it the water?

A great point by Tom Aguero of Queen City Drinks:

“Knowing folks who work at the MillerCoors plant, one of the reasons they’re here is the excellent quality of water. The nearby city of Hamilton was just named as having the best tasting water in the world. Also, a small craft brewery south of Columbus, Rockmill, had their water tested and was an excellent match for Belgian water.”

Is it the people?

From Mike Stuart of Brew Professor:

“I think our general Midwest culture leads folks to embrace local businesses as an important part of the community. They see it as something that supports their friends, family, and neighbors, which I think has contributed such rapid growth in local breweries. Accordingly, they are introduced to craft beer and are converted from corporate macros to appreciating more artisan products.”

Is it the size of new breweries?

Another fun tidbit from Rick Armon:

“What I find interesting is some of the new boys are launching with 30-barrel systems. That was unheard of a few years ago when brewers were debating between a seven- and 15-barrel operation. We seem to be either going small (nano) or big today.”

Lots to digest between the original post and this one, so I welcome your thoughts and comments as to what has changed in Ohio (if you’ve seen it) or any similar changes you’re seeing where you live.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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5 thoughts on “Reporter’s Notebook: Ohio and Craft Beer

  1. Pingback: Buckeye Beer: Is It Time to Pay More Attention to Ohio? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

  2. Nice article. I’ll admit there’s still a part of me that’s tickled with the notion of Ohio being a hot bed for craft beer, but hey more power to them! To bad Mike and Carney aren’t writing The Beer Revue anymore those two Cincy boys sound like they’re right in the thick of it.

  3. Thanks for looking under the hood in these posts about the beer scene in Ohio. You uncovered some facts about craft beer sales here that I found very interesting. Over time it will be interesting to see if some of the Ohio breweries grow enough to be major regional breweries, like Founders, Bells, Victory, Troegs, Southern Tier and Ithaca. Right now only Great Lakes would seem to be playing in that league, but breweries like Thirsty Dog, Rhinegeist and MadTree look to be ramping up production capacity significantly. Breweries like Fat Heads, Jackie O’s and Columbus Brewing Co are not small breweries and could definitely compete and then some on quality.

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