More than 150 craft brewery owners and state brewers guild leaders descended on Capitol Hill last Thursday to meet with lawmakers and discuss legislative reform, most notably a bipartisan bill that aims to slash the federal excise tax rate imposed on every barrel of beer produced in the country.
The “hill climbers” had over 300 individual meetings with members of Congress and their staffers, according to Bob Pease, CEO of the Brewers Association, which organized the lobbying effort in conjunction with the SAVOR beer and food festival. More than half of those were “member level” meetings, held between participants and their own representatives and senators, said Pease.
Steve Crandall, founder and owner of Devils Backbone Brewing in Roseland, Va. said he met with Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA) to help secure his support of the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (Small BREW Act), the abovementioned tax bill.
“He was on board. Basically, what I told him was this is a jobs bill,” Crandall told Brewbound. “I said, ‘Certainly it gives us some relief, some tax relief on what we’re paying on barrelage. But ultimately, American craft breweries are going to use that money to invest in infrastructure and hire more people.’”
The Small BREW Act, which is supported by the BA, seeks to cut the federal excise tax rate on a brewery’s first 60,000 barrels from $7 to $3.50. The bill would also reduce the rate on production between 60,001 and 2 million barrels to $16 from $18. As written, once a brewery surpasses the 2 million barrel benchmark, the tax would not change from its current $18 per barrel rate. Brewers producing 6 million barrels or less would qualify for the lower rates.
Lawmakers do have a competing bill to mull over, however. The Beer Institute-backed Fair Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act (Fair BEER Act) promotes even deeper cuts and extends them to all domestic and international beer companies, regardless of size.
With the craft industry well represented in D.C. this past week, both for the Hill Climb and for SAVOR, Crandall said he did see ads for the Fair BEER Act both on television and in the Washington Post. Brewbound reached out to the Post and the BI for further comment and to confirm the existence of the ads, but both organizations were unavailable as of press time.
Crandall made clear though that while he supports the Small BREW Act, he doesn’t oppose the Fair BEER Act, saying the passage of either bill would be a net positive for the industry.
“Also, we told [Rep. Hurt], ‘You know what, we don’t mind if you sign both bills,’” added Crandall. “We don’t oppose the Fair BEER Act. We just think the Fair BEER Act is the bigger challenge.”
Rick Chapman, founder of San Diego’s Coronado Brewing, echoed that sentiment.
“We tell everybody, if you can’t make a choice, do them both. It’s going to help us all out eventually,” said Chapman. “If you just push together forward we’ll get relief down the road.”
A BA memo that detailed the legislative talking points for the visit was sent to hill climbers prior to the visit and encouraged brewers to invite lawmakers to join the Small Brewers Caucuses of both the House and Senate. Additionally, the BA sought to encourage legislative support for the Craft Beverage Bond Simplification Act of 2015, which would “significantly reduce the regulatory and paperwork burden” faced by brewers by removing bonding requirements and necessitating less frequent tax filings.
The meetings came on the heels of the Senate unanimously passing a symbolic resolution late Sunday in praise of the jobs and wages created by the craft brewing industry.