Year In Review: Tobacco 21, More OHLQ Progress Seen In 2019


COLUMBUS — 2019 saw the state of Ohio raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and the state Division of Liquor Control continue to advance initiatives designed to improve spirits sales for consumers and permit holders.

On Oct. 1, the legal purchase age for tobacco products rose to 21 from 18, the result of language in the $69.8 billion biennial state budget signed in July by Gov. Mike DeWine. The new law includes electronic smoking and vaping devices among the items banned for sale to those younger than 21, as well as accessories such as cigarette rolling papers, pipes and filters. Retailers are required to post signs in-forming customers about the new law and face increased penalties for selling tobacco products to anyone under 21.

For the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, the past year was a continuation a years-long process to improve the customer experience at the state’s liquor agencies. The division succeeded to the point that it was awarded the “Best of the Best” overall award in the fifth annual Best Practices Awards program sponsored by StateWays.

Following the launch of the Ohio Liquor, or OHLQ, brand in December, the division opened 22 new contract liquor agencies during fiscal year 2019. It also expanded its “Last Call” concept, begun last year as a two-week event at a Columbus agency to sell discounted discontinued and slowing-selling products, to four permanent locations in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Stow.

Ohio liquor permit holders are now allowed to purchase items at Last Call stores and, for the first time, were permitted to participate in an OHLQ bottle lottery.

2019 also marked the 80th anniversary of Ohio Tavern News. The trade publication for Ohio’s beverage alcohol and hospitality industry was founded in May 1939 by entrepreneur and former Youngstown newspaperman Marc Flanagan, who felt there was a need for “a liquor trade journal in the Ohio field that had no axe to grind, that was devoted to publishing the news of the industry as it found it and as it happened and that had no affiliations which would prevent the publication of all of the news all of the time.”

There was plenty of other “news of the industry” during the past year, so here is a look at some of the items that made the pages of Ohio Tavern News:


Legislation took effect allowing a “designated outdoor refreshment area” to include entities issued temporary liquor permits; House Bill 522 was amended to remove language that would have increased the amount of glassware a beverage alcohol manufacturer or supplier may give as a gift to a retail permit holder, which the Ohio Beer Association called a “glassware giveaway, pay-to-play amendment” for large breweries … Bills introduced during the year, but not passed, included HB 219, which would eliminate limitations on Sunday sales of beer and intoxicating liquor; HB 160, which would allow the sale of alcoholic ice cream to retail liquor permit holders for resale to consumers; SB 115, which would ban anyone under the age of 21 from entering a liquor permit premises with beer and intoxicating liquor receipts of more than 60 percent of total annual gross receipts; HB 187, which would punish liquor permit holders who allow “sexually suggestive” performances by minors; HB 237, which would allow A-3 and A-3A permit holders to ship products to consumers via an S permit; HB 181, which would allow the Ohio Department of Agriculture to promote beer and cider through the creation of a program called “Ohio Proud Craft Beer”; HB 250, which would exempt the first $100,000 of net profits earned by a veteran’s, fraternal or sporting organization from instant bingo from the charity distribution requirement; HB 282, which would allow a charitable organization to use an electronic instant bingo device; SB 195, which would clarify that wine is not a prepackaged food under a law granting certain wineries an exemption from retail food establishment licensure requirements; and HB 398, which would eliminate laws banning alcohol giveaways by nonprofit groups, charitable organizations and churches for fundraising.


The beer industry contributes $12.9 billion annually to Ohio’s economy and supports more than 81,000 jobs in the state, according to an economic study by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute … Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. was acquired by Anheuser-Busch, joining A-B’s Brewers Collective, a business unit focusing on craft beer… March First Manufacturing LLC, the parent compa-ny of March First Brewing and Sycamore Distilling acquired FigLeaf Brewing Co. of Middletown … Great Lakes Brewing Co. was among the recipients of the Brewers Association’s inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Event Grants, receiving money for its Tapping Opportunity, an employment fair that convened representatives from craft breweries around Cleveland to highlight the career opportunities available in the industry to the greater Cleveland community … Ohio moved into the top 5 in beer production, producing 1.4 million barrels, according to data released by the Brewers Association … Ohio’s tourism industry generated $46 billion in tourism spending, according to TourismOhio … The Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a The House of LaRose, a Brecksville beer wholesaler, in an age discrimination com-plaint filed by a warehouse employee who was terminated in March 2017.


Mitch Allen of Zeno’s in Columbus was named Ohio Tavern News “Permit Holder of the Year,” while Erik M. Jenkins, vice president of Sales at Columbus Distributing and Delmar Distributing, was named the 2019 John T. Fleming Wholesaler of the Year … Tom Lix of Cleveland Whiskey in Cleveland and Brady Konya of Middle West Spirits in Columbus were named to the Distilled Spirits Council’s Craft Advisory Council … David Yee of Oddfellows Liquor Bar in Columbus was crowned the Central Regional winner of the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition … Melissa DeGraw was named director of Business Development and Growth by the Ohio Restaurant Association … Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Sheryl Maxfield director of the Ohio Department of Commerce and Tom Stickrath as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, and reappointed James E. Carnes to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission.


Michael Lamarca, owner of the northeast Ohio Master Pizza chain, took third place in the Pizza Pizzazz competition held the Mid-America Restaurant Expo … Middle West Spirits won an industry Innovation Award for its OYO Sherry Finished Bourbon, as well as five other medals, at the 2019 American Craft Spirits Awards; the bourbon also was named the 2019 Heartland Whiskey Competition’s Best of Show and Ohio’s best whiskey … For the third straight year, Brewfontaine in Bellefontaine was named Ohio’s “best beer bar” as part of’s Great American Beer Bars competition … Columbus’ Watershed Distillery was named the Ohio Gin Distillery of the Year for 2019 at the 10th annual New York International Spirits Competition, won a double gold medal for its Bourbon Barrel Gin at the 2019 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition, and was among four Ohio distilleries, along with High Bank Distillery Co. of Columbus, Iron Vault Distillery of Galion and Renaissance Artisan Distillers of Akron to win medals at the American Distilling Institute’s recent 2019 Judging of Craft Spirits … Ferrante Winery of Geneva was awarded the 2019 Ohio Wine Competition’s overall Best of Show for its 2017 Grand River Valley Gewurtztraminer … HardHops Hybrid Craft Cocktails of Maumee won two medals at the USA Spirits Ratings Competition … Brink Brew-ing of Cincinnati was named the Very Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, which saw Ohio brewers win a record 15 medals, including five gold medals … Wolf’s Ridge Brewing of Columbus won a gold medal at the Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer, one of five medals earned by Ohio brewers.


Michael (Mohamad) Akrouche, former director of the Ohio Department of Liquor Control, died Jan. 21 at his Columbus home at the age of 85. Akrouche was named department director in January 1993 by Gov. George Voinovich and oversaw the privatization of the last remaining state liquor stores, as well as the reorganization and downsizing of the department, which included the transfer in 1995 of Liquor Control’s Enforcement Division to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.


Watershed bourbon was named among the “10 best bourbons beyond Kentucky” in a article … Great Lakes Brewing Co. was ranked 20th on the Brewers Association’s list of top 50 craft brewers, while Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Brewery was 28th; Fifty West Brewing Co. of Cincinnati was 49th on the association’s list of the 50 fastest growing craft brewing companies … Brink Brewing Co. was No. 4 on USA Today’s Best New Brewery list, while Cleveland’s Masthead Brewing Co. was No. 7… Sandy Springs Brewery in Minerva and BrewDog in Columbus were among more than 50 breweries across the country featured in a feature, “AirbnBeers: Breweries with Hotels, Inns, Camping & More” … Veritas of Columbus was the only Ohio entry on Wine Enthusiast magazine’s list of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants.