Much ado has been made about the news that the state of Ohio is getting rid of over 700 liquors and spirits from the state liquor list. The state has the power to do so since they control liquor sales in the state through the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. The state having a say on what can and cannot be sold has a long tradition. It was not until 2016, four decades into the growth of craft beer, that we lifted the archaic 12% ABV limit placed on beer brewed and sold in the Buckeye State. In 2016, the state identified over 1,000 items that were just not selling or were no longer produced. In fact, according to the report, they accounted for less than 4% of the liquor sales.
This was happening at the same time they were looking to condense the number of warehouses in the state from four to two. These stores over the years have begun to look like the end scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with stacks and stacks of liquor awaiting shipment. Instead of moving vast amounts of slow-selling product, they decided they were going to get rid of it.
A high number of the liquors on this massive list are a product of the flavoring craze that hit the industry in the last decade. Some of those flavors are no longer available, like Pinnacle King Cake or Three Olives Dude. There are vodkas with really odd flavors, too. When did you last reach for UV Salty Watermelon? These flavors, while briefly popular, were not in high demand after their fleeting glory waned.
In addition to the ephemeral flavors, there are well-known names delisted in this effort. Those listings, however, are specific sizes of the liquor in question. Disaronno was on the list, but only the smaller 375 mL size. The more substantial sizes will still be available for purchase in your favorite store. For Sailor Jerry, it was the 200 mL a half pint removed from the list. To make room for more bottles in their warehouses, they are getting rid of the merchandise that is not selling.
Over the last year, the state has been doing some heavy lifting to update the system they use to get the product to restaurants and liquor stores. In the beginning, it was a severe issue for distillers and bars, with shipments being delayed or missing for weeks on end. They have worked out all of the kinks, and are even advocating for the opening of more stores in the state to quench our thirst.
This purge is one of the last updates that will help improve what is being offered to Ohioans on the shelves of their local liquor store and help ease the rate at which they can purchase it. This is the best Ohio can hope for until they dismantle the antiquated control system. That will be a while since JobsOhio relies on the incredibly profitable liquor business in to fund their program. In 2016, liquor sales soared over $1 billion. That is a considerable amount of funding for a state program. There is still twenty years on the deal they signed with the state. Any efforts to break up that happy partnership would require a way to replace that income.
It remains to be seen what the state will do with all of the freed up shelf space they will have. Bringing in more delightful whiskeys from around the world would be lovely. Or enhancing the number of other spirits the bar community in this state are starting to enjoy, like mezcal and amari, would be fantastic. This is an opportunity for liquor control to listen to advocates and experts in the hospitality industry to bring in the product that will boost Ohio’s economy. Let’s hope they make the best of it for a new year.