The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Elmer Steingass’ friends call him Goose, and his brown ale took home a gold medal at a recent homebrewing competition. It’s going to be tough to get a taste, though. That’s because homebrewing falls into a bit of a grey area under Ohio law. A measure on its way to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk would clear the path for homebrewers and fermenters to host events showing off their latest batch.
Steingass sits on the American Homebrewers Association governing committee, and he’s been pushing for this legislation for four years. Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, sponsored the measure which passed the Senate easily Wednesday on a vote of 30-1 after the House tacked on a number of additional provisions.
The core of the proposal codifies the right to brew beer or ferment wine in Ohio without a liquor permit, so long as it’s for personal consumption or to share with friends and family. Federal law allows homebrewing, but because Ohio law is silent on the matter, it hasn’t always been clear what is and isn’t allowed.
“So that’s kind of why we started working on this is to bring the Ohio liquor laws into compliance with what is permitted under federal law,” Steingass said.
He described how in 2008, the last time the American homebrewers hosted their convention in Ohio, opening the doors required a last-minute mad dash for permits.
“The AHA said that they didn’t want to take a chance on coming back to Ohio again because the possibility that we would get permission to have such an event in Ohio, and then at the last minute not be able to get a permit would be prohibitive,” Steingass explained.
House lawmakers rolled in a number of additional changes before approving the measure, including expanding the size and number of districts where local governments can allow people to carry open containers.
On the House floor last week, Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, brought up another change related to raffles.
“You may occasionally be asked to bring a gift basket for a silent auction at your local political affiliation or maybe some charity organization,” Stein said. “I don’t know if you’re aware but it’s technically illegal for us to give a couple bottles of wine in a basket to anyone and have them raffle that off at an event. This bill fixes that issue.”
Stein also referenced the “missed opportunity” for economic benefit that could flow to the state from events like the AHA’s annual convention called Homebrew Con. Steingass, meanwhile, argued supporting homebrewers means supporting the state’s growing craft beer industry, because so many craft brewers started out at home.
“You become a homebrewer, you get your feet wet, you learn how to do it, you learn how to make good beer and then you take it to a competition somewhere and let judges evaluate it, and then you get an idea whether you can do it or not,” Steingass said. “One of the clubs I belong to, I think there’s eight at last count, that have come out of this club that have gone into the professional brewing industry.”
But a different provision, making it easier for retailers to sell alcohol on Sundays, has raised objections. In written testimony, Save Sunday Ohio chairman Bob Young complains that this is the third time in two years that lawmakers have tried to ease Sunday sales restrictions. Young also argues lowering the bar will primarily benefit out of state dollar and drug store chains.
“If the legislature grants Sunday sales to all permit holders, the result will be not only lost sales for the Ohio companies who have it, but more dollar stores popping up as they become more profitable,” Young wrote.
Roegner, though, doesn’t make much of the Sunday sales changes.
“I don’t think that’s that significant,” she said after the measure passed the Senate. “I mean, you can buy alcohol six days a week in Ohio and in many areas, you can buy it seven days a week if they’ve gone through the process of having it on the ballot, so this really truly isn’t that huge of an expansion.”