Ohio legislators should pause before boosting beer’s potency

Increasing the maximum percent- age of alcohol allowed in beer sold or produced in Ohio from 12 to 21 percent may make good business sense, but before state legislators change the law, they should delve deeper into the issue.

Indeed, Attorney General Mike DeWine, who has not taken an official stand on House Bill 391, poses a very important question: How will increasing the alcohol percentage in beer affect drunken driving?

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

Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, and the 20 co-sponsors should have no objections to letting the state’s chief lawyer explore the ramifications of selling more potent beer in Ohio.

Indeed, the Drug Free Action Alliance, a statewide group based in Central Ohio, has already come out against HB 391, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

“The problem that we’re concerned about — [is people] will be thinking they are only drinking one drink when really it’s the equivalent of two or three [normal] beers,” said Marcie Seidel, the alliance’s executive director.

It is worth noting that one regular can of beer — 12 ounces with 12 percent alcohol content — is worth one shot of vodka and most other hard liquors.

The ramifications of increasing the alcohol content are clear, but the National Brewers Association points out that beer sold with 12 percent or higher makes up about 2 percent of the craft-beer market. It is some of the finest beer brewed, Paul Gatza, director of the association, told the Dispatch.

Gatza noted that such beers are typically consumed an ounce or two at a time and are not chugged.

In arguing for passage of his legislation, Rep. Ramos said that beverages over 21 percent are considered “spirituous” or high-proof liquor and only are sold at liquor stores.

This is not the first time legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly to boost the alcohol level of beer, but previous attempts have not made it past the committee level.

Support building

This time, however, Ramos believes support for the initiative is building.

Independent breweries in Ohio seem to be the rage in Ohio. In 2012, there were 58; today, there are 90.

“We would be brewing beers other states would be envious of and want to come get, and beer tourism is an evolving industry here as more breweries pop up,” said Bryant Goulding of Rhinegeist in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, which opened last year.

Fewer than 10 states limit alcohol by volume in beer, with West Virginia being the only state bordering Ohio that has a 12 percent cap.

In 2012, 58 Ohio craft brewers produced an estimated 980,696 barrels of beer, bringing $1.2 billion to the state economy, according to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.

Proponents of raising the ABV will cite those and other statistics to support their position, but state legislators have a responsibility to fully explore all issues relating to this controversial topic with major societal ramifications.

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