Friday, August 4, 2017

Ohio State Liquor Law Change Will Helps Craft Distilleries Expand Their Customer Base

     Ohio is considering a change in the laws that might make it easier for Ohio's micro distilleries to get their vodkas, gins, rums and whiskeys on barroom shelves thanks to a change in state rules that will allow small-time distillers to sell products directly to pubs and restaurants.   That may not sound groundbreaking, but the process to get booze in the hands of a bartender is so ponderous that many producers didn't even bother trying.   Under the Ohio's strict liquor control rules, all distillers - no matter if they make 100 bottles a year or 100 bottles a minute - first had to ship their products to one of two state warehouses. The warehouse would send the bottles to a state liquor agency, where restaurateurs then could buy it wholesale.

     "If we have a micro distillery in Cincinnati, they would have to deliver product to the Columbus warehouse just to have it come back to the Cincinnati market," said Kerry Francis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce. "This will eliminate that step."  Georgia has very similar laws that are also causing a rum maker in Richland, Georgia has to send his rum to Atlanta and then it has to be brought back by a distributor to the bar and liquor store that is right across the street.  All these laws do is to send the cost of the product through the roof, mostly  because of unnecessary shipping.   Sales still will be tracked and regulated by liquor control agents, but officials say the eased rules recognize Ohio's growing craft distilling industry and are viewed as a way to help support those businesses.

     The changes likely will boost distillers like Toledo Spirits Co., a four-year-old craft distillery on North Summit Street in Toledo.   Toledo Spirits still is awaiting final details on how new the process will work, but partner and co-founder Dustin Wade is excited by the potential.   "It becomes more of a volume game for us," Mr. Wade said. "It'll be great to be able to engage directly with those local proprietors."    Mr. Wade noted that it was never their intention to put their spirits through the state system because the batches are very small and unique to Northwest Ohio.  This new law will allow them new sales opportunity in their specific region.

     As an employee of a small distillery in Florida, I see this issue effecting many of the craft distillers here as well.  Because all spirits must go through a distributor  in  order to get to the market, it is very hard for the small distilleries to sell outside of their distillery showrooms.  Most of the worthwhile distributors aren’t really interested in these small distilleries products because there isn’t enough volume to be worth their time.

      Craft distilleries are nowhere nearly as common as craft breweries, the numbers are growing significantly every year.  Ohio State officials say in May of 2011, there were two. Today, 57 producers are licensed to make up to 100,000 gallons of spirits a year.   Ryan Lang, president of the Ohio Distiller's Guild and co-owner of Middle West Distilling in Columbus, said the industry continues to gain traction and the state's upcoming changes should help with growing pains.

"This is a big change for Ohio craft distillers. This is definitely going to help people get to their customers better," I hope that more of the states will take what Ohio has done and look at doing the same for the craft distillers in other states.