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Can't Burst The Bubble: Ohio's Craft Brewers Predict More Growth Ahead

Debbie Holmes
Justin Hemminger, deputy director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, at their conference in downtown Columbus.

Ohio ranks fifth in the country for production of craft beer, with the number of craft breweries growing by 500 percent in just the last five years.

About 700 people in the craft beer industry are meeting this week for theOhio Craft Brewers Conferenceat the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus.

“We see a lot of new breweries popping up as, like, hubs of their community, like gathering places for their neighborhoods or their towns,” says Justin Hemminger, deputy director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA).

Hemminger says the number of breweries in Ohio has skyrocketed from 60 in 2013 to 300 in 2018. OCBA estimates that more than 15,000 people work within the craft brewing industry.

Profits are hopping, too. Craft beer created an $2.7 billion dollar economic impact in 2016. That's an increase of $510 million over the previous two years.

“You have a lot of people who are converting to craft from some of the traditional beer brands, just trying something that’s similar but a little more flavorful from a local craft brewer, and kind of exploring the rest of the world of craft beer from there,” Hemminger says.

Bottles of Great Lakes Brewing Co., which is produced in Cleveland.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
Bottles of Great Lakes Brewing Co., which is produced in Cleveland, at the Craft Brewers Conference in Columbus.

At the convention, close to 30 educational seminars will cover topics from technical brewing, legislative and regulatory issues, sales and marketing, and business management. Speakers from across the country will present on topics like deciding whether to distribute beer themselves or choose a wholesaler.

And, of course, brewers will learn how to step up their flavors.

Hemminger says there's still plenty of space to add breweries, and not just in Ohio.

“Craft beer nationwide holds about 13 percent of the total beer market, so there’s a lot of room to expand on that,” says Hemminger.

Not everything is rosy in the craft beer world; some breweries haven't been able to survive the boom. Four Strings, a well-known Columbus brewery known for its Hilltop Heritage Lager, shut its doors last year.

Hemminger says he doesn't see this as a warning for the industry.

“Businesses close for any number of reasons,” Hemminger says. “We don’t talk about there being a restaurant bubble because a popular restaurant closes. There were 59 brewery openings in 2018, and 10 closings. So the openings are still outpacing closings by a tremendous number.”

Hemminger adds the new trend in craft breweries is for them to sell a larger percentage of the beer they make out of their own tap rooms.

“And that model is very sustainable,” he says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.