What’s up with Kahlua in Ohio?

What’s up with Kahlua in Ohio?

In the course of writing my last post about two new cream liqueurs, Amarula and Kahlua Coffee Cream, I ran across a truly bizarre-looking fact about Kahlua. In the United States, Kahlua is sold at 40 proof, or 20% alcohol by volume. At least is it’s sold that way everywhere except my state of residence, Ohio.

KAHLÚA® Liqueur. 20% Alc./Vol. (21.5% alc./vol., available only in Ohio).
{Kahlua website}

Kahlua and ABV
Woot! Go Bucks… or something.
Seriously, what is this all about? Why is Kahlua sold at a higher concentration of alcohol than other states? I searched the web to find out why, but while many have asked this question, no one seems to have an answer.
Do Buckeyes have a higher tolerance for booze than other, lesser Americans?
Fortunately for my peace of mind, and that of thousands of internet insomniacs out there, I have access to one of Kahlua’s brand promoters.

What awesome perks are bequeathed to those who blog about cocktails….

I know! Isn’t fame and fortune fabulous?
At any rate, the explanation is rather simple…

Let me guess.
We have a strange, inexplicable, and pointless anomaly.
I’m guessing the reason is government related.

Got it in one, my perspicacious sock-puppet!
Ohio’s bizarro liquor laws strike again. In Ohio, the state segments alcoholic beverage sales into what we citizens commonly think of as liquor and beer and wine. You can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, etc. Liquor can only be purchased from the state’s liquor agents. The state defines this distinction by a simple criteria: the percentage of alcohol by volume.
And that percentage is 20%.
Now, Kahlua wants to be sold in state liquor stores, next to the vodka, the rum, and most other liqueurs. But Ohio would classify Kahlua’s normal formulation as low alcohol, and refuse to carry it, sending it instead to the grocery stores and UDFs.
So Kahlua’s maker, Pernod Ricard, has to manufacture a completely separate product (separate production run, labeling, and distribution) to satisfy Ohio’s caprice. Kahlua is sold at a higher ABV amount in Ohio so that the state won’t treat this rum and coffee liqueur like a wine.
Go Bucks! We’re number (twenty) One (and a half)!


  1. Dominik MJ

    1 October

    May I annotate my doubts, that Kahlua is a Rum & Coffee Liqueur? I rather think that neutral alcohol is used to make it!

    Its still interesting and fun, to get to know this bizarre exception!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. Doug

    2 October


    I thought so too. But the website states, “Kahlua’s dark liqueur cradles delicate notes of rum, vanilla, and caramel….”
    I’ll check to be sure, but that sure sounds like a rum base to me!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  3. Doug

    16 October


    I heard back on the base for Kahlua. It is in fact rum, not neutral spirits!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  4. Emily

    24 November

    Logical explanations work, but if you lived in Ohio you’d appreciate that fact since there’s not a lot to do but drink….

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  5. Doug

    24 November

    Ah! But Emily, I do live in Ohio. Why do you think I have this blog?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  6. Must be nice living in a state where your backwards liquor laws result in more alcohol content rather than less. We still have the liquor stores closed on Sundays.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  7. _abv_

    25 November

    Seems like a lot of hassle. I wonder why they don’t just sell it at the higher strength everywhere. Would eliminate all the BS.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  8. Snic

    9 June

    Hi Doug. I live in Europe and I arrived at your site by searching for liqueur in Ohio. Go figure.

    I’ve been raving about Amarula to a friend in Ohio. Unfortunately, she’s having trouble finding a way to get some. I take it that you’re also located in that same swirling vortex of liquor laws.

    We’ve found a few online sellers who will ship to OH, but they all charge more for shipping than for the bottle.

    Do you know of any Amarula distributors based in Ohio?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  9. Doug

    9 June

    I am not sure exactly whether Amarula is currently allowed to be sold in Ohio (the state reserves this decision for itself here).

    I haven’t bought a bottle in a while, and I do not think it is available here. Depending on your friend’s proximity to the border with Michigan, or better yet, to Kentucky, they’d probably be best to make a run across state lines.

    In any case, she can ask any better liquor store in Ohio if Amarula is “on the list”. A service-oriented clerk will check and let them know for sure.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  10. Joe

    9 February

    I was checking on two collectible Kahlua bottles I have. They are the pre-Columbian figures. One is 20% av the other is 26.5% av! Yay! But I still have no idea why. The 20 has a clear duty free sticker. I think the other is duty free also, it has no tax label but no duty free sticker. I’ll keep investigating.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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