Bar association

Ohio Beer Counsel: Legal services for breweries

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Kevin Connell and Adam Armstrong of the Ohio Beer Counsel pose for a picture at AleFest 2015

As the Miami Valley’s craft beer scene continues to expand, ancillary businesses arise to support the industry. One such example is the Ohio Beer Counsel, a subset of lawyers from the local firm Freund, Freeze & Arnold. Kevin Connell and Adam Armstrong are two lawyers on that team. Dayton City Paper sat down with them to learn more about how they became craft beer lawyers and the type of work that they do.

How did the Ohio Beer Counsel get started?

Kevin Connell: It’s a practice group within the firm. In terms of it coming about, Adam and I have been craft beer fans for a while. We started going around to the local, new breweries in Dayton. Being around these folks, we were talking about that this is something that they might need—a good lawyer—as a business that is a subspecialty in and of itself. They have their unique issues that other businesses may not have. In order to do it, we got educated. We took a CLE. We read up on all of the arcane laws that craft breweries and distilleries have to face everyday. It took several months to really study it. No one was really doing it. We hadn’t seen any other law firms doing it, any other lawyers, other than a couple in California, in Chicago. But not many. The space was pretty empty, and so we rolled it out in March [2015], after a lot of self-education to have some credibility. Gathering the knowledge took some time, but once we felt comfortable enough, we said, “Let’s do it,” and we put ourselves out there with the support of our firm and partners.

You mentioned a CLE. What is that?

KC: Continuing legal education. There’s a firm in Michigan; there’s a guy that’s been doing this—Michigan is kind of the epicenter of craft beer—and this guy up there who has been doing it for a lot longer. So, he actually put out a CLE. We attended that and got his materials.

Adam Armstrong: With the CLE, a lot of that was really regulatory specific, as it relates to federal regulations with TTB [The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] and some Ohio rules and regulations. I think what also got our interest in this, being craft brew enthusiasts, was looking at what we did already in our practice and looking at what [craft brewers] are doing. These places are manufacturing facilities, they are bars, they are distribution centers. Those were three separate areas that we saw and said, hey, we do work in these three separate spaces already. We do work with small businesses, we do worker’s compensation, we do OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], we do employment law, we do small business consulting. This was an opportunity to take what we enjoyed to do personally and wrap it into one package and do a focused practice group and take a lot of what we’ve already put into one area. It was an exciting opportunity.

What does your client base look like?

KC: We’re building it. We’ve got everything from brand new start-ups to established breweries.

Are your clients local or throughout the state?

AA: Throughout the state.

KC: Yes, throughout the state. We’ve got one right now working in Cleveland. It’s a start-up. They haven’t put themselves out there yet. We have several in the area. Some further south [near Cincinnati].

What is an example of the services you provide for breweries?

AA: For a startup, we help them decide what business formation they want and help them draft the documents that go along with that. We talk to them about future investors or growth and help them make those decisions and get that all worked into the business documents. And with a startup, particularly, it’s really educating them about the amount of work and the amount of effort it’s going to take to get things together before you can even make an application for the permit. It’s a lot of education at the front end to say, “This is what you want to do, let’s lay out what it’s going to take to get it done.”

Finally, are we on the cusp of a craft beer bubble?

AA: I don’t think we’re anywhere close. If you look at the number of breweries pre-Prohibition, we’re right at that now, if not just over. Now granted, the landscape is a little different. It all comes down to you’ve got to make good beer. Number one, you’ve got to make good beer to survive. And each one of these breweries has a different business plan. They don’t all want to be a massive conglomerate or a regional powerhouse. Some of them want to be a small brewpub, and that’s fine. Look at the amount of restaurants we have in Dayton alone, and they are surviving. I think as long as [the local breweries] make good beer and they have a solid business model and they are dedicated to it, I don’t think we’re anywhere close [to hitting the market ceiling].

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at

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