House Bill 37: The Ohio ABV, a Good Change for You and Me

On May 31, 2016, Governor John Kasich passed House Bill 37. The bill removes Ohio’s alcohol by volume (ABV) of 12 percent. The last change was in 2002 when the cap rose from 6 percent to 12 percent. For beer aficionados and the brave, these changes are long-awaited. But, what do alcohol laws in Ohio like HB 37 actually do and what does it mean for Ohio craft brewers?

HB 37 has three parts. First, it removes the current ABV cap of 12 percent. Second, the bill allows for open container districts. Third, the bill sets forth new labeling requirements for high volume beer.

Removing the ABV Cap

Removing the cap in Ohio immediately affects the retailer. Craft brewers now have the option to brew craft beers up to 21 percent. As Ohio continues to be a leader in the growing craft beer industry, the 12 percent cap was both arcane and limiting. Before HB 37, not only was selling over 12 percent illegal, but brewing above 12 percent was illegal as well. This caused Ohio consumers to drive to bordering states to purchase higher-alcohol beers and limited what recipes craft brewers could experiment with.

While most go-to brews do not hover anywhere near 12 percent, there is an increasing demand for brews that do. The time and money required to produce batches of high-alcohol beer keep it in high demand. This is especially true among craft beer enthusiasts. Even if the high ABV beers are more novelty than mainstay, brewers still want to meet that demand while also being able to practice their craft creatively and without restriction.

There are currently 157 breweries in Ohio. Mary MacDonald, executive director of Ohio’s Craft Beer Association said, “(due to HB 37) there may be over 200 craft breweries by the end of the year.” A year and a half ago there were only 100 breweries. HB 37 helps Ohio’s burgeoning beer population to expand its creativity, reputation and products. The bill is also expected to attract future investments. In 2014, Ohio’s failure to raise the cap above 12 percent lost it tens of millions of dollars from Stone Brewing Company, who later decided to build in Virginia.

Open Container Districts

Bill 37 levels the playing field for entrepreneurs and brewers. Arguably the biggest perk for consumers are the “outdoor refreshment areas” that bill now protects. The requirements for the open container districts will be set by individual municipalities. A city or township must outline the area’s boundaries, signage needs, hours of operation, plans for public safety personnel and sanitation, and to require that drinks be served only in plastic containers.

The first open container district will be located in the North Market in downtown Columbus. There, patrons will be able to walk around with their open container of wine, beer or liquor. The effect will be like Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee or Bourbon Street in Louisiana. This change is exciting for both the vendor and the consumer.

New Label Requirements for ABV

Bill 37 requires all beer packaging to be labeled with the alcohol percentage. Beers that are greater than 12 percent alcohol by volume must state “high alcohol beer.” For craft brewers who break into the over 12% pool, these new brews will need to have labeling to reflect the higher ABV. But, Ohio’s new alcohol law is also true for brewers who experiment with increasing the ABV on current recipes. Even though the name and ingredients remain the same, the higher ABV will call for new labeling to reflect this change.

Digital label printing is especially useful for craft brewers jumping on the high alcohol bandwagon because of the fast turnarounds and low order quantities necessary for special edition and quick to market brews. If you need to make one change to an existing label – say, just changing the ABV % and adding a “high alcohol beer” warning – this can be done without purchasing new plates or tooling. Many higher alcohol beers are sold as special releases and are not part of normal production cycles. As such, specific labels ordered in smaller batches are often required, which again can be done most easily with digital label printing.

The Future of Craft Beer in Ohio

As the craft beer industry continues to expand, Bill 37 makes Ohio more competitive. The bill breaks some of the limitations that have kept Ohio behind in the industry. It makes Ohio a more attractive place to build, and it also creates a better atmosphere for public enjoyment. The bill still has a 90 day sitting period, but very shortly we will begin to see its effects.