Special to the Canton Repository
I gained my interest in craft beer for the same reason most brewers do: a love of beer.
As I learned about the art, the science and the incredible history of beer making, the more interested I became. But one of the major draws for me was — and is — the craft beer community.
I’ve found an industry that’s creative, collaborative and that works hard to delight our customers. I worked with a lot of companies in a lot of industries, and the kind of passion and community that exists in the craft brewing industry is very rare. It’s what drives me every day.
What used to be a small collection of enthusiastic beer lovers has grown exponentially in size and importance since Ohio’s first craft breweries opened in the late 1980s. Our state is now home to 393 independent craft breweries, 48 of which opened just last year.
Ohio craft breweries are responsible for $880 million in economic output and employ more than 8,300 people, and by providing inclusive gathering places, volunteering and partnering with local charities, craft breweries have an outsized impact on our communities.
With that increased visibility and growth, we’ve seen the need for increased advocacy for our industry. We’ve always had to work hard for rights — to homebrew, to make higher alcohol beers, to expand our premises, to deliver directly to customers — and we’ve had a lot of success.
The past couple of years in particular have really shown how we can move the ball forward in gaining rights for craft breweries.
Many of these gains could be characterized as a fight against inertia. We’re a highly regulated industry: for the past 100 or more years, there’s been a lot of legislation created and modified around us, establishing a status quo.
To accomplish much of what we’ve done, we’ve mostly had to fight the inertia embedded in that huge body of legislation and regulation that we exist in. That’s generally gone well: People of all backgrounds and politics like beer, and we’re an industry that works to include everyone.
It can take a while: The push to solidify federal excise tax reform for small brewers took more than a decade to come to fruition, and that was an initiative that enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.
We’ll continue to see the need to fight for those kind of changes, just due to the complex nature of our industry. We have been on a good trajectory lately, passing bills that modernized outdated alcohol laws and helped breweries adjust to the effects of the pandemic.
These efforts are intended not only to ease burdens on Ohio’s craft breweries, but also to make the beer marketplace more robust for the consumer.
We’ve also had challenges where we’ve come up against established and entrenched power.
There are sizable and influential players in the beer industry who see some of what we’re seeking to do as a threat. We have seen that in the past, with moves by some of the larger manufacturers to roll back our gains or restrict some of our advantages.
We’ve been successful in fighting back on those efforts by engaging our breweries and their customers to advocate for our industry. As we continue to grow and improve and protect our competitive posture, we’ll see some of these bigger players mobilize their standing and connections to attempt to corral us and keep us from achieving our objectives.
However, as I said before, we’re no longer just a few small players. We’re a lot of players, some very small and some among the largest in the nation.
There are craft breweries in 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties, serving urban neighborhoods and rural towns alike. We’re getting attention for the economic impact we have in the state of Ohio, for the jobs we create and for the taxes we pay.
Our coalition of small breweries is organized under the leadership and advocacy of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, which fights for the rights of independent breweries every day. Most importantly, we have the support of our communities: That same passion that led each of us to get into the industry fuels the interest and support of thousands of our friends and neighbors.
The craft brewing industry has grown and thrived over the years because of our unique spirit of cooperation and collaboration. We will continue to lean on that strength of collective purpose to make positive changes for craft breweries, which in turn will create more diverse and widely available beer choices for consumers.
Alan Szuter is co-owner of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus and president of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association board of directors.
Founded in 2007, the Ohio Craft Brewers Association is a nonprofit guild that exists to promote, preserve and unify Ohio’s craft brewing industry. We aspire to be recognized as the industry leader at both state and national levels for preserving the art of making high-quality, unique craft beer; to serve as the unified voice for craft brewers across the state; to advocate on behalf of the Ohio Craft beer industry; to contribute to systemic, local community development by driving economic and job growth, while creating experiences that bring people together; and to serve as a beacon for local production and manufacturing through craft beer, resulting in diverse choices for consumers.
For more information, please contact:
Justin Hemminger, Deputy Director
Ohio Craft Brewers Association