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For Ohio's Craft Brewers, Business Is Hopping

Mark Urycki
Some hops on display from the Local Hops Company of Williamsburg, Michigan.

If it seems like there are a lot of young men with beards in Cleveland this week, you’re not imagining it. 

The Ohio Craft Brewers Association is holding its annual convention in Cleveland. Sure, there’s beer there, but mostly it’s all about the hops, the grains, the bottles – the business of brewing. And business is good.

Attendance at the Craft Brewers Association convention is up 30 percent from last year. The Association says there are 265 small breweries in Ohio and most of those just started in the last three to four years.  

The brewers are feeling good about a new cut in the federal excise tax that was sponsored by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman. For small brewers, the tax is cut in half from $7 a barrel to $3.50. 

Association spokesman Justin Hemminger said that’s a boon to these small businesses.

“Even just a few thousand dollars can mean the difference between whether or not you have the flexibility to make a capital improvement you’ve been looking to do for a while, hire a new staff,” Hemminger said. “It’s absolutely essential to the bottom line of these breweries.”  

For Columbus brewer Larry Horwitz, of Four String Brewing Company, that means hiring more people. A board member for the national Brewers Association, Horwitz said Ohio offers some benefits to small brewers, like allowing them to distribute beer themselves.  

"You can legitimately operate a pretty small brewery in Ohio and still feed your family,” Horwitz said. “If your goal is to take over the world, that’s a different situation. But we want to encourage small members to make and sell their products to the consumer and Ohio is a great state for that right now.”   

The Brewers Association ranks Ohio fourth in the nation for craft brew production. A report found that Ohio's craft beer industry generated $2.7 billion in 2016.