BeerAdvocate is one of the top beer rating sites online. It is a wonderful place to find a good beer because of its rating system from professionals and a myriad of reviews from beer fans. Reading the reviews and comments on Samuel Adams’ Utopias, you can see this complex and delicious beer is incredibly popular with beer aficionados. The brothers who run the site gave it a 100, the best possible rating it can get, and 887 other raters have given it a cumulative score of 99. The raters discussed its big flavors, great aromas and smoothness as it washed over their tongue. The flavors people detected and discussed were raisins, dark cherries, brown sugar, cinnamon and any other luxurious flavor you could use to describe a complex and well crafted beer. One reviewer even compared it to a great cognac or bourbon. Sam Adams created it from a variety of beers and different blends, aged in cognac, bourbon, rum or any other used barrels they could find. Some of the batches are aged almost twenty years in some of these barrels. This means that every year this small batch beer has its own unique flavor. This beer also has a kick, weighing in at between 27% and 29% ABV (alcohol by volume). As good as the liquor stores like Belmont Party Supply, Arrow Wine, and even Jungle Jim’s are at finding and carrying fine beers and liquors, you will not find it in the state of Ohio. Ohio limits the ABV on beers that can be sold in the state to 12%, putting Utopias well out of purchasing range for Ohioans.
Ohio is well known as a state with very restrictive liquor laws. The state has a say in all the liquor that is sold as well as when and where it can be sold. Liquor under 20% ABV, wine and beer can also be sold in grocery and other non-state stores. Ohio is also one of only a handful of states that have a cap on the ABV of beer, and join West Virginia with the lowest in the country at 12%. Both West Virginia (2009) and Ohio (2002) only recently brought it up from 6%, which is where the levels were set after Prohibition. This was great before the craft beer boom, when 6% was considered a high alcohol beer; now 6% is considered on the lower end of the craft beer scale (which is gaining in popularity) and high for commercial beer (which is declining in popularity).
Ohio state Representative Ramos (D-Lorain) introduced the bill in the 2011 – 12 session, H.B. No. 356, with greater support from not only the citizens of the state of Ohio, but the legislature as well. He sees the increase in breweries across the state, and the popularity in craft beer in general (15% sales growth in 2012, leading to 17% more profit for the industry) as a potential cash windfall for Ohio. Beers with high alcohol content are not a high demand product. They have higher caloric content, and they are typically priced at $10 – $15 a bottle and get more expensive from there. The Utopias is $200 a bottle. Most craft brewers in the state are not going to drop their more typical offerings to focus on a high alcohol beer, but they can do what Dogfish Head did with their 120 Minute IPA and have some leeway to experiment. It would also encourage the beer lovers in the state to spend their money at local businesses, helping Ohio’s economy. Beer aficionados will drive across state lines to purchase beers like Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, The Breury Melange #3, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Whiskey Barrel-Aged Barleywine Style Ale, and Braueri Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Classic (all recommended by our own Snobby Beer Guy Max Spang) , giving their money to Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, or Michigan. Ramos feels that money can be kept in Ohio, gaining tax revenues for the state not only from selling beers other great breweries outside the state are making, but from all of the local breweries. “The industry has progressed,” Ramos said in an interview with the Dayton Business Journal. “The laws need to catch up.”
The road blocks to passing the new bill are lower at this point, but they are still there. In 2011, Jimmy Stewart proposed the original bill, a change in the law to raise the upper limit on beer from 12% to 18%. The timing of that law was unfortunate; it happened at about the same time that Four Loko, a premixed, high alcohol cocktail-in-a-can, was recovering from a rash of college students blacking out and other incidents of them being injured after enjoying the beverage. The law also faced resistance from MADD and other groups that felt that beers with higher ABV would allow young drinkers to hit unsafe levels of intoxication at a faster pace. The bill was blocked in the legislature, and Stewart stepped down before it could be reintroduced.
More citizens than before are supporting the initiative. There is an online petition that has over 1,500 signatures on it. Consumers would not have to drive for hours to get beers that they are reading about on the Internet or hearing about from their friends. Until just over a year ago, Yuengling enjoyed a mythical status in the state of Ohio. They would love to have these beers as easily available to them as Yuengling is now. Craft brewers around the state are looking for the opportunity to flex their muscles from a brewing standpoint, to try brewing bigger beers with unique flavors. High alcohol beers are typically made in small batches, which makes them highly sought after by collectors. Creating a superb, high alcohol beer can really help raise the community’s awareness of that brewery. That is not only a benefit for the brewery in question, but for the state itself. You can get involved by directly contactingyour state representative and letting them know you support raising the ABV limit the state has on beer. Let your beer drinking friends know as well.
The current limit we have on the ABV is arbitrary. Rep. Ramos is looking to raise the ABV from 12% to 21% because that has been the traditional dividing line between beer or wine and liquor. It is a less arbitrary number, but it is still a limit on beer that forty other states do not have. It still does not allow beers with super high alcohol content like Utopias to be sold in the state, but all of the other beers in this article would be allowed to be sold in Ohio. The blog Overturning 12 is keeping an eye on the situation, and at the time of this article, the bill is waiting to start moving again while the state works on less important things like a budget. The bill is waiting for a formal number once it gets in front of our lawmakers. Show your passion for your beer and make your voices heard!