By Marc Kovac
Greg Lehman and Dave Rigo have hosted tours of their Columbus micro-distillery since its founding last year.
On Thursday evenings, they take people through their production area, complete with bourbon whiskey barrels. But at the end, they’d have to direct visitors down the street to a liquor store if they wanted to purchase bottles of Watershed Distillery’s vodka or gin.
“It was a little cumbersome,” Rigo said. “They usually found it, I think.”
That was until Thursday, the first day of a new state law allowing direct sales and product tasting at such artisan liquor operations, thanks to legislation passed by the Ohio House and Senate and signed by Gov. John Kasich.
The bill removed caps on the number of micro-distillery permits, allows the sale of up to four quarter-ounce samples per customer and opens the door for bottle sales on the premises. It’s a setup comparable to what wineries have enjoyed.
“If somebody goes to a winery, takes a nice tour of a vineyard, comes back, buys a bottle if not a case, takes it home,” Rigo said. “The likelihood of them, if they didn’t buy that case or bottle at the winery, to go out the next day and try to find it is probably fairly slim. So, for us, it’s huge for tours and to bring additional revenue [to the business].”
The new law also allows micro-breweries to sell beer by the glass for carryout or by the “growler,” a reusable glass container, up to one gallon in size.
David Goodman, director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, said the changes should help small beer and liquor businesses expand.
“These are local companies run by local craftsmen making local products,” he said. “Many ingredients come from local sources, and they have local or niche audiences in mind.”
Bruce Stevenson, superintendent of the state’s division of liquor control, said 10 permit applications from micro- distilleries are pending.
“Ever since this legislation passed ... our phones haven’t stopped ringing with questions from distillers about how they can operate, how they can get the new A-3a permit in other areas of the state,” he said. “There will be more to come down the road.”