Ohio’s craft beer boom: $2 billion increase in 2 years

The craft beer boom shows no signs of fizzing out. Instead, it’s pouring its efforts into new ventures across Ohio and Butler County and contributing to the economic growth of both.

A new biennial economic impact study commissioned by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute shows that industry growth exploded in recent years, contributing more than $13.2 billion to Ohio’s economy in 2016. That’s a $2 billion increase from 2015.

In 2011, the state was home to 32 craft breweries. Now there are at least 220. Butler County, which had two breweries in 2014, now has six and will add three by year’s end in West Chester Twp. (Grainworks Brewing Company), Fairfield (Swine City Brewing) and Hamilton (Quarter Barrel Brewery & Pub).

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Planned to open in neighboring Warren County this year are Sonder Brewing 16 Lots Brewing Company, both in Mason.

“I think that’s a great thing,” said Matt Chapman, 39, who has visited Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House in Monroe and Crooked Handle Brewing Co. in Springboro and shopped at The Casual Pint in Mason. “It used to be something that was difficult to come by and find things but at this point, it’s becoming more and more prevalent with the area.”

Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House’s new $6 million facility opened in Monroe in January in a building constructed to be twice the size of its Lockland location.

Founded in 2009, Rivertown produced approximately 15,000 barrels of beer a year by 2016. Nearly 30,000 barrels are projected to be produced this year in Monroe.

The craft beer industry will continue to grow because people are looking for more flavorful options across the board in not only the food they eat, but the beverages they drink, according to Lindsey Roeper, “dream facilitator” and co-owner of Rivertown Brewing.

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“Gone are the days of drinking or eating the same thing day in and day out,” Roeper said. “People’s palates are really changing and it’s exciting because the generation that is coming up is being exposed to all of these different flavors.”

Justin Hemminger, spokesman for the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, said the boom in craft breweries directly correlates toward an overall market trend of eating and drinking local.

“The biggest growth we’ve seen in craft beer has been at the nanobrewery level,” he said, referring to scaled-down microbreweries, often run by a solo entrepreneur, that produce beer in small batches. “Nanobrewery growth was the primary driver of all craft beer growth last year.”

The “overwhelming majority” of those getting into craft brewing as a business started out as home brewers or craft beer enthusiasts, not solely as entrepreneurs looking to cash in on a hot trend.

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“Most of the people opening craft breweries right now, they realize it’s a good climate to try it and to try and sell beer, but they’re more concerned about making excellent beer versus it being a strict dollars-and-cents proposition,” Hemminger said.

While last year’s lifting of the ABV limit was helpful to level the proverbial playing field for brewers, but not something that in and of itself spurred growth in the industry.

Founded in 2008, the Ohio Craft Brewers Association counts 147 members out of the 220 operating craft breweries in the state. It also has more than 160 Allied Members in a wide variety of fields, including packaging, insurance, mechanical systems, architecture and farming.

“The local economy around the craft brewing industry has very long arms,” Hemminger said.

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OCBA realized that even more after the launch of its new, free app, Ohio On Tap, which amassed 2,500 users in just a month following its launch. The app informs beer fans where craft brewing establishments are located and its passport program rewards them for various increments of visits with prizes like lapel pin, hats, metal signs and the grand prize of “enthusiast” membership in the organization, which comes with merchandise, discounts and other incentivizing aspects.

The app is capitalizing on a nationwide trend. The Beer Serves America study concluded that the U.S. beer industry has a $350 billion overall impact on the economy and generates more than 2.23 million jobs, providing $103.3 billion in wages and benefits. It also paid more than $63 billion in taxes.

The amount of beer purchased at brewery locations has doubled in last three years, from 1.2 million barrels in 2014 to 2.5 million barrels in 2016, Hemminger said.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in people going to breweries to buy and consume beer,” he said.

Craft brewing is having an impact on communities across the state and nation, including Hamilton, which welcomed Municipal Brew Works in June 2016 to the city’s former municipal building.

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City Manager Joshua Smith said the effect the business continues to have is readily apparent.

“You can see the direct impact Municipal Brew Works has had on our downtown in terms of patrons using the facility,” Smith said. “What is hard to estimate is the number of dollars that are spent by shoppers who would not otherwise be in downtown Hamilton, but for Municipal Brew Works drawing them here and what other businesses will locate in our downtown due to them being there.

“The president of CMC Properties specifically cited Municipal Brew Works being one of a few reasons they decided to invest almost $15 million in their new mixed use development, (The Marcum).”

The craft brewing boom also is reverberating across the retail market, leading to the opening of storefronts that pour beer from dozens of taps, as well as sell it from cans, bottles and growlers. Craft-beer bottle shop and lounge BC’S Bottle Lodge opened in 2016 in Liberty Twp. and The Casual Pint opened a location this month in Mason.

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Jungle Jim’s International Market’s locations in Fairfield and Eastgate have added to their selection of craft beers as the industry expands and even holds entire festivals dedicated to it.

The Fairfield grocer’s craft beer department, which includes 4,000 different domestic and imported beers, is “consistently near the top of the heap, if not at the top” when it comes to the amount of money generated and the volume of product sold, according to Jungle Jim’s spokesman Jared Bowers.

“We have great working relationships with local breweries … so we’re able to get great deals for people and just move a lot more product than you would ever think possible,” Bowers said.

The popularity of craft beer has led to year-over-year steady sales growth of between 5 and 15 percent at Jungle Jim’s and spawned in-house promotions like Pint Night and several Jungle Jim’s festivals, including this weekend’s 12th annual International Craft Beer Fest, as well as the Barrel Aged Beer Bash, Buckeye Beer Bash and the Fall Smash.

MORE: New craft beer lounge opens in Liberty Twp.

It helps, of course, that Jungle Jim’s entered the craft beer market in its infancy back in the mid to late 1990s, when many West Coast craft beer companies were starting to get their product out more.

“That’s when we saw what it was going to become and we dove in feet first and we’ve been rockin’ and rollin’ ever since,” Bowers said.

Consumers’ ever-changing palates give brewers an opportunity to think far outside the box and come up with different ingredients and fermentation techniques to set themselves apart and meet that demand, Roeper said.

“Because people are always looking for more, there’s always more beer that can be brewed, which is very exciting,” she said.

In addition, taking the same recipe from an Ohio brewery and producing it elsewhere in the country means a “very different” taste due to different house flavors from the yeast, different yeast cultures that are used, different fermentation techniques, different equipment and even different water.

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Existing and soon-to-open breweries are great additions to the county’s already vibrant tourism product lineup, according to Tracy Kocher, director of marketing for the Butler County Visitors Bureau.

“They provide great additional things for people to get out and see, do and experience,” Kocher said. “In today’s tourism economy, the local experience is really key … and each of those breweries (in Butler County) has unique offerings. Anytime we can support local businesses with local offerings, it’s great from a tourism standpoint.”

Coming to the county to partake of a particular brewery or two will likely lead to money spent elsewhere, bolstering the overall local economy in the process, she said.

Chapman said the wide selection of local breweries in the region gives him the opportunity to take friends and family from out of town to enjoy a brew.

“I’ve got family from California that comes in and they get to … try beers that they probably don’t even have access to today just because the distribution doesn’t necessarily get that far,” he said.

BY THE NUMBERS: Beer industry in Ohio

$13.2 billion: how much the beer industry contributed to Ohio’s economy in 2016

$10.8 billion: how much it contributed in 2015.

More than 200: amount of breweries in Ohio in 2017

Less than 50: amount of breweries in Ohio in 2011

81,341: amount of jobs supported by the industry in Ohio

$2 billion: amount of business and personal taxes generated

Source: Beer Serves America study

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