Take a tour throughWatershed Distilleryin Grandview Heights and you’ll be able to purchase a bottle of vodka or gin.

Take a tour through Watershed Distillery in Grandview Heights and you’ll be able to purchase a bottle of vodka or gin.

Seems simple, but before House Bill 243 took effect in March, visitors had to go to a nearby liquor store. Microdistillery owners are cheering the change.

“For us, the big homerun is being able to sell a bottle out of our shop,” says Greg Lehman, co-owner of the 2-year-old Watershed (“More Booze for Locavores,” March 2011). “The bill allows the tours to be a moneymaking thing and not just a PR, goodwill thing. We’re still trying to get to the positive cash-flow point, and every little bit helps.”

Previously, Franklin County had only one A-3a liquor license, which allows a small-scale distillery to sell bottles on-site. That license was held by Middle West Spirits in the Short North.

HB 243 removed population-based A-3a restrictions. Already, the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Liquor Control has seen more than a dozen applications from distilleries looking to upgrade to an A-3a license or purchase a new one, says communications director Lyn Tolan.

Now, Watershed and Middle West have joined other small-batch spirits producers to launch the Ohio Distillers Guild. The group plans to pool resources, lobby and market craft spirits to a drinking public that rarely reaches beyond Kamchatka.

“I’m not saying House Bill 243 wasn’t a victory, because it was,” says Ryan Lang, co-owner of Middle West. “We’re going to try and adjust some of the small things that make our lives more difficult, and then we’re going to try and tackle some larger issues that make us more viable.”

About 11.2 million gallons of liquor were sold in Ohio during fiscal year 2011, totaling a record $770.7 million. Lang estimates microdistilleries account for less than 1 percent of that, but he says there’s a broader economic impact.

“Outside of just general sales, which operate our companies, we also impact our supply chain by using locally sourced grains,” Lang says. “We partner with local distributors that help us sell, [and] we partner with local restaurants and chefs that then serve our customers.”

Reprinted from the June 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.