Craft brewers push for tax breaks

Wisconsin microbrewers are hoping for a tax break from Capitol Hill, but bigger beer companies may be pushing cuts for every brewer across the board.

Wisconsin Brewers’ Guild President Jeff Hamilton is in D.C. for the week, attending a craft brewers’ conference and lobbying on behalf of the state’s small-scale brewers.

Part of Hamilton’s push to lawmakers is for the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce, or Small BREW Act.

If passed, the bill would reduce the federal tax per barrel of beer produced from $7 to $3.50. That tax applies to up to 60,000 barrels. The Small BREW Act would also cut $2 from the tax rate for each barrel over that 60,000 mark.

In addition, the bill expands the amount of beer a microbrewery can produce to still be considered for the tax breaks. If the bill did pass, a brewer could make as much as six million barrels of beer and still fall under the bill’s benefits.

The Small BREW Act is co-sponsored by both Republican and Democratic congressmen.

“One comment I got when I was on the hill is that this is one of the few bipartisan things that they can agree on up there,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said bigger brewers want the same tax cuts to apply to them, an idea he thinks Congress will find to be too expensive. Hamilton claimed tax breaks across the board would cost more than a billion dollars. Just applying those breaks to microbreweries, Hamilton said, would cost $34 million.

VIDEO: Craft brewers push for tax breaks

“I think the small brewers really are not necessarily against the other bill,” Hamilton said. “We just don’t think it has a chance to fly.”

Calls to Miller-Coors and the Beer Institute went unreturned Thursday.
Ale Asylum owner Otto Dilba said the Small BREW Act would allow him to add either personnel or equipment, making him potentially more competitive with the more corporate beer makers. He thinks the idea pitched by those bigger brewers is not a good one.

“Let’s call it what it is. It is a competition between the bigwigs and the craft beer industry,” Dilba said. “And the day that they start playing on a level playing ground, then that’s the day that I will consider the possibility that we should all be treated as one.”

After two years in Congress, Dilba said it’s hard to believe the bill will be passed, but hopes that something happens to help his industry.

“I’d be surprised if the legislation happens simply because of the power that is wielded by the Anheuser-Busch’s of the world. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying,” Dilba said. “The thing is, we make better beer than them, so eventually, we’re going to win anyway.”