Photo credit The Bourbon Blog

Breaking Beer

Brewing high-alcohol beers is illegal, but dreaming about them is not.

Although 12 percent ABV is as strong as beers are allowed to be in Ohio, local brewers are drunk on creativity at the possibility of upping the potency of their brew.

The Ohio Beer Bill (HB 391), proposed by State Representative Dan Ramos, would increase the legal limit of beer produced and sold in the state to 21 percent alcohol-by-volume. 

“The existing cap also limits the creativity of brewers in Ohio, which is disappointing,” said Craig Herron, brewer at Columbus’s Sideswipe Brewery. “It’s a little like telling a chef he or she can only use so much cream or butter in a dish.” 

But what if that bill passed today? We challenged some of the most talented in the Columbus’s craft brew sector to create a hypothetical beer that would push the boundaries of the current 12 percent limit. So sit back, strap in and prepare for high gravity:

Actual Brewing Co. 

For Fred Lee, the time for creating high ABV beers, or rather thinking aggressively about them, is now.

“If [HB 391] does pass, we have to be ready for it because other breweries will be,” Lee said.  

Two beers that brewers at Actual Brewing Co. have pondered are based off of two existing beers, Electra and Fat Julian, and are more than triple their alcohol content.

Super Conductor, an imperial version of Electra, an American amber rye that has a 6.2 percent ABV, would clock in at 19 percent, tipping the scales at what would be legally acceptable in the state. But problems arise when beers reach these potent heights. Since the limit on ABV is 12 percent currently, many breweries have a threshold on the percentage of alcohol their tanks can handle. In addition, there is a demand for different hops, high-gravity yeast and perhaps most importantly, the need to brew more batches to fit into one tank. 

The market for these beers would not be big, adds Lee, but would attract beer aficionados who come from all corners of the state to taste the most diverse beers.

North High Brewing

“We are excited about true barrel-aged beers,” says Gavin Meyers, a brewer at North High Brewing. That excitement could finally come to fruition if HB 391 passes soon.

Meyers estimates that if the bill passes, a 14-16 percent collection of beer would be added to North High’s brew list. Russian imperial ale, a honey braggot, or a Belgium dubble or tripel would be on the drawing board for potential drafts. Though Meyers doesn’t have a name for his beer, he speculates the taste alone will help lead him to its label.

And whether these beers would catch on with the average beer drinker, Meyers seems to approve. Beers on the fringe of the market, in this case high-alcohol, high-gravity rich stouts, attract beer buffs.

“Without a doubt there’s a market for it [craft beer], especially for extreme enthusiasts,” Meyers said. “People are going to flock to it.” 

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

“Stronger beers can be very complex and rewarding, but once you start pushing 15 percent they can become undrinkable in many cases,” says Chris Davison of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. 

Davison would brew Old Ale into six separate barrels, which he would call the “Local Species Series.” Each barrel would be named for the predator native to the area where the beer was crafted.

Instead of adding ingredients to the beers, Davison insists on allowing the beer to absorb the characteristics of the oak of the barrel, especially with Old Ale, which can have leather, tobacco, toffee, brown sugar, or molasses remnants.   

“I prefer this to adding spices or other adjuncts because it showcases the beer, the spirit, and the oak of the barrel.”

Seventh Son Brewing Co. 

“I’d name the beer the Legislator…most doppelbocks use the –‘ator’ suffix in their names,” said Colin Vent, brewer at Seventh Son, “and that would reference all the legal bullshit that’s surrounded the cap on beer for all these years.”

Settling on a bock brew, Vent says he would cram as much malt into the tanks as possible, supplement it with a compound brewing sugar, and potentially even freeze a portion of it to further concentrate the beer, eliminating any diluting water. By not focusing as much on the character of the hops, the beer would be very malt-concentrated.

But as far as pushing the limits to where he could not before, Vent would settle on something a little more devious.

“As far as ABV goes I think I’d aim for 0.1 percent over the legal limit, just to be a punk about it.”

For more on HB 391, visit www.legislature.state.oh.us. Please research responsibly.

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