AKRON, Ohio - Ohio craft brewers hope a new state law allowing production breweries to open tasting rooms and sell their beer by the glass without buying a second costly permit will help boost beer tourism by bringing breweries more in line with winery tasting rooms.
Breweries have been charged $3,906 annually for that second permit in addition to paying the same amount for their manufacturing license. The cost of the second permit had deterred many small production breweries from opening to the public.
Ohio wineries pay $76 for their annual license and don't have to pay for a second permit for tasting rooms, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the Division of Liquor Control. Wineries have flourished by marketing themselves as tourist destinations, and some have created "wine trails" where visitors go from winery to winery and sample products, the newspaper reported.
Like wineries, microbreweries will now be able to "showcase their products in a relaxed setting," said Chris Verich, who owns and manages brewing operations at Ohio Brewing Co. in Akron and plans to open a tasting room.
He said the bill signed Wednesday by Gov. John Kasich marks "a great day for Ohio microbreweries and the Ohio craft brewing industry." The measure was scheduled to take effect in 90 days.
The president of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association says it is "long overdue." Association president John Najeway, who's also co-owner of Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron, said his business has paid for a second permit for a couple of years to have a tasting room.
Other breweries looking to open tasting rooms include Black Box Brewing and Indigo Imp Brewery in northeast Ohio, Mt. Carmel Brewing and Listermann Brewing in southwest Ohio and Neil House Brewery in the central part of the state, the newspaper reported.
"The wheels have always been rolling when it comes to the idea of building a tasting room, but we couldn't justify the cost of the license," Mt. Carmel assistant brewer Patrick Clark told the newspaper in an email.
The Mt. Carmel brewery in suburban Cincinnati has provided in-depth explanations of the brewing process to people touring the facility.
"But let's be honest -- tasting is the most important part of the process," Clark said.
Republican state Rep. Casey Kozlowski of Pierpoint, who co-sponsored the bill, said he sees plenty of potential for economic development with the growing craft beer industry, especially given the popularity of wine tourism. The state-run Ohio Grape Industries Committee estimates Ohio wineries and festivals attract more than 2 million visitors annually.
The brewery issue was an amendment on a bill that focused mainly on micro-distilleries. Under the new law, the state also will allow the opening of more micro-distilleries, or businesses producing less than 10,000 gallons a year.
Previously, only three micro-distillery licenses were available, and they were restricted to Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties.
The state wants artisan distillers and brewers to have the opportunity to create and grow their businesses, which tend to use and rely on local products, said Lyn Tolan, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Commerce.
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