New Ohio law will benefit “real” beer drinkers
OK, I’ll admit it: I drink beer. Before you start to think I drink the kind of cheap beer one gulps down to get drunk and avoid the taste, allow me to clarify. I like to imagine that I’m somewhat of a beer aficionado. My all-time favorites are Stella, Icky (a microbrew from Reno, Nevada) and Fat Tire. I also have a soft spot for pretty much any oatmeal stout.
That’s why I was intrigued to hear about a proposal currently being debated in Ohio’s State Senate to raise the legal amount of Alcohol by Volume (ABV) in beer from 12 to 18 percent.
The law’s intent is to encourage Ohio’s 50 microbrewers to experiment and to keep their companies and beer inside the state. Only 20 states in the U.S. have restrictions on the alcohol content in beer, and neighboring states like Indiana place their limits much higher (at 21 ABV). Kentucky and Pennsylvania have no restrictions at all.
I spoke to John Najeway, the owner of Thirsty Dog Brewing in Akron, and he told me that raising the limit would give him the freedom to try out certain ingredients and fermentation techniques. He said he was excited by the proposal and would definitively try out some new recipes if the bill passes. I’ll admit to being excited by the idea of trying them out myself. I happen to be a fan of his Old Leghumper.
These new beers would be expensive – think $20 for a four pack – and they’d be brewed in small batches for a clientele that likes to sip and savor their beers. Najeway thought the high price of these brews would discourage most underage and college drinkers who are sensitive to price. His brewery is right across from the University of Akron, but he sees less than five students a month.
I hung up the phone firmly on Najeway’s side. I’m over 21, and I really like Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, a beer that happens only to be available across state lines due to its 18 percent ABV. I can assure you that at $7 a bottle (plus tax), it’s not a beer I’d ever consider gulping. It tastes too good, anyway.
So I called Patricia Harmon, the executive director for Ohio’s Drug Abuse Action Alliance, to get the other side of the story. Her answers caught me more than a little off-guard. Harmon told me she knows only a handful of college students have a taste for higher-end microbrews. But, she said the problem with the law has never been the independent breweries.
In 2002, Ohio raised the legal limit on alcohol in beer from six to 12 percent. After the law passed, mainstream manufacturers like Anheuser-Busch came in with cheaper malt beverages, the technical name for beers with an alcohol content over six percent. Drinks like Busch’s Tilt and Four Loko featured brightly colored cans that targeted a younger crowd. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know they sparked a lot of controversy after several hospitalizations and deaths.
I’d like to point out that the main problem with these drinks was that they were mixed with caffeine and tasted more like an energy drink than a beer. And public outcry solved the problem. Busch voluntarily decaffeinated Tilt in 2008, and a few weeks ago the company voluntarily lowered the ABV in Tilt to 8 percent.
Second, more than 30 states currently allow high alcohol content beer. But Sam Adams is the only mainstream company I can find that makes one. They make a brew called Utopias that contains 27 percent ABV. It costs a whopping $150 a bottle, so I doubt it will be used for beer pong anytime soon. That is, unless you happen to be invited to a game of beer pong at the Kardashians. I think even the big retailers now recognize that high ABV beers take time and money to manufacture; they are for a different kind of drinker.
I’m just not worried about alcoholics and underage drinkers buying these new malt beverages because research shows these groups are very price sensitive. Frankly, taste isn’t the main objective in their drinking. And microbrewers like Najeway have said these new beers will cost anywhere from $7 to $30 a bottle.
If Harmon and others are concerned about binge drinking, I think their efforts should be more focused on distributors of beers like Coors Light and Natty Light. At 50 cents a can, they make a more economical way to get drunk. Five cans of Coors will run you less than half the price of my beloved 120 Minute IPA.
If the goal is to get drunk cheaply, then I think this law will have little effect. Yes, it would take fewer sips to get buzzed on an 18 percent ABV beer, but I doubt they’ll be featured at college parties anytime soon. It’s simply cost prohibitive. And from the looks of it, most of the larger beer manufactures think so too.
For me, what the argument ultimately comes down to is personal responsibility. Whether you’re 18 or 80, it’s up to an individual to know what he or she is drinking.
Remember to read the labels on your beer, and to keep in mind the average one contains about 6 percent ABV. And here’s one final friendly piece of advice: If you’re too drunk to figure out how many times 6 goes into 18, may I suggest you opt for a glass of water instead?