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Photo from Stone's website

A Stone’s Throw from Glory

So Stone defied local wisdom and passed on bringing its brewery to Columbus. They haven’t said why, and odds are pretty good that co-owner Greg Koch won’t be offering up any details that might cast his childhood home in a bad light. They’re just saying that Richmond was better equipped to meet their site requirements. A vague comment like that means a lot of things, and when you’re considering the politics involved, some of those things might be a little, well, shady.

That’s the way the game is played. Maybe Richmond was able to make the deal a little sweeter. At any rate, it’s all good—congratulations to Richmond.

Let’s take a deep breath and calm down. Let’s turn our disappointment into something productive. What are some of our shortcomings, and how can we address them?

It’s not the water. Yes, Hoover “turned over” last fall and what came out of our taps smelled like John Goodman’s underwear for most of the winter. That’s what happens when your drinking supply comes from a healthy watershed that teems with life. It could be worse—just ask Toledo.

Brewers have ways of dealing with water and mitigating the odd flavors that periodically find their way into our faucets, and for what it’s worth, San Diego has some of the worst water in the country. Columbus was an upgrade for Stone, musty aroma or not.

Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one, and in this case the obvious answer is regulation. Yeah, that 12-percent-ABV limit is a bitch, and a brewer like Stone has a few selections in the portfolio that exceed that. Moreover, some of Stone’s regional competitors, like Bell’s, are known for cranking out heavy hitters. The fact that sincere efforts are afoot in the legislature to bump that up is fine and dandy, but the proposed bill is still going to limit Ohio’s brewers to 21 percent. There aren’t many beers on the market exceeding that level, but if you’re a brewer and you have a choice between a city with a cap of 21 percent and another with no cap at all you’re going to opt for limitless land. Also, considering how long it’s taken Ohio to move on the ABV limit, there’s no guarantee that said cap will be raised any time soon.

But it’s not just the ABV limit—Ohio’s liquor laws are not only outdated but were written by prohibitionists. There are all kinds of infuriating definitions and restrictions that defy logic. Anybody who has wanted to buy a growler of cider knows how capricious these restrictions can be. The fact that Stone didn’t walk away five minutes after reading up on our laws probably shows many positive things are brewing in the local beer culture.

Rather than using the state legislature as a staging area to plot the next move up the political food chain, our elected officials might want to convene and make some serious revisions to our liquor laws. It’s not only Columbus that missed out on a wonderful opportunity, the entire state of Ohio stood to benefit from the revenue and interest generated by this move. The Ohio Beer Bill has been on the radar for more than two years now, and we’re still wondering when it will come to fruition. Make no mistake, that sort of stagnation doesn’t sit well with brewers.

Ohio’s liquor laws are not only outdated
but were written by prohibitionists…The fact that Stone didn’t walk away five minutes after reading up on our
laws probably shows how many positive
things are brewing in local beer culture.

It’s not just beer, either. Ohio’s wine industry is gaining international respect, and we’ve got some great micro distillers opening up shop. Everybody in the business praises the people working in liquor control for being so helpful when it comes to navigating the confusing regulations, but the fact remains that the regulations are a major pain in the ass, and they leave the door open for some overzealous enforcement official to bring the hammer down without warning.

Of course, Columbus needs to step up its game as well. There’s no question that Columbus residents love craft beer, and we could be the brewing Mecca of the Midwest if the city embraces this culture and incentivizes growth in this industry.  For years, Columbus has tried to find an identity it could promote in a catchy slogan—doesn’t “Beertown” sound like a winner?  Now that Stone has spurned us, why not channel that excitement into growing our own brewers? There’s plenty to get behind.

Obviously, you want some guaranteed return on your investment when you offer tax breaks, developmental grants, and low-interest loans, but surely we can find some resources to help expand the industry that’s already here. Perhaps a good faith investment like that would put Columbus on another expanding brewer’s shortlist in the near future, but the next big thing in craft brewing might already be here (some would argue that it most certainly is). It would be great if we could help them along.

We weren’t ready for the opportunity. The girl of our dreams walked into our lives and caught us sleeping on the couch in our underwear, surrounded by empty White Castle boxes. We can’t let that happen again.