State Beer Excise Tax Rates

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Today’s infographic is a map of the State Beer Excise Tax Rates for each of the fifty states as of January 1, 2013. It was created by the Tax Foundation as one of their weekly maps. It’s just the state excise taxes brewers must pay, and doesn’t include either federal excise taxes or any local excise taxes. Tennessee has the highest state excise taxes and Wyoming has the lowest, a fact that the anti-alcohol folks like to exploit and whine about as often as they can whenever these maps show up online, never discussing context or the total taxes each state brewer pays. Not surprisingly, since oftentimes these are also referred to as sin taxes, six out of the highest ten states are in the south, with Florida at #11 and Mississippi at #13. California’s near the middle.

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Click here to see the map full size.

Alabama Passes Homebrew Legislation

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This is great news, Alabama may soon become the last state to legalize homebrewing since Prohibition, thanks in large part to the grassroots efforts of Right to Brew. According to the American Homebrewers Association:

The Alabama legislature has passed a bill that, once signed by Governor Robert J. Bentley, will effectively legalize homebrewing throughout the state. Alabama will be the last state in the nation to legalize homebrewing.

“Homebrewing has been an integral part of the history of America, so it’s thrilling to know that soon all 50 states will support this growing hobby and long-standing tradition,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association. “We appreciate the backing of all of the homebrewers, the dedicated grassroots efforts of Right to Brew and the legislators who have worked so diligently to make homebrewing a reality in Alabama. We are especially grateful to Representative Mac McCutcheon who introduced this bill and has fought long and hard for its passage, along with Senator Bill Holtzclaw.”

Alabama is the last state holding out against legalizing homebrewing. In March 2013, Mississippi became the 49th state to pass homebrew legislation. The AHA has been working with Right to Brew for five years in order to get the Alabama bill passed.

Homebrewing became federally legal in 1979, though the 21st Amendment predominantly leaves regulation of alcohol to the states. Therefore, even though homebrewing is federally legal, it is up to individual states to legalize homebrewing in state codes. Once the Alabama bill is signed by Gov. Bentley, it will be the first time since pre-Prohibition days that homebrewers in all the states can legally brew at home.

The next step is for the Alabama governor to sign the bill into law. If you’re in Alabama, please urge the governer to do so. You can find out how to help at the Craft Beer website.

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Mississippi Makes Homebrewing Legal

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The American Homebrewers Association announced this morning that the governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, signed into law a bill effectively legalizing homebrewing within the state. Congratulations to all of beer lovers and homebrewers in Mississippi that worked so hard for so long to make this happen, and especially the hoproots organization Raise Your Pints. Forty-nine down, one to go. Now that Mississippi finally allows homebrewing, only Alabama does not permit its citizens to brew beer at home. Check out the full story at the AHA’s press release.

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Class Action Suit Alleges ABI Watering Down Bud & Michelob

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Just when you think things can’t get any stranger, beer drinkers in three states — California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — have filed a class action suit against Anheuser-Busch InBev. The L.A. Times is reporting in Beer drinkers accuse Anheuser-Busch of watering down brews, that the lawsuit alleges the following:

Ten Anheuser-Busch products were named in the lawsuits: Budweiser, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Bud Light Lime.

Former employees at the company’s 13 breweries — including some in high-level positions — are cooperating with the plaintiffs, said San Rafael, Calif., lawyer Josh Boxer, the lead attorney in the case.

“Our information comes from former employees at Anheuser-Busch, who have informed us that as a matter of corporate practice, all of their products [mentioned in the lawsuit] are watered down,” Boxer said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s a simple cost-saving measure, and it’s very significant.”

The excess water is added just before bottling and cuts the stated alcohol content by 3% to 8%, he said.

ABI, naturally, is calling the lawsuit “groundless,” but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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Cartoon by Tony Husband.

UPDATE: NBC News is also now reporting this story, in Budweiser waters down its beer, lawsuit alleges. Apparently, Bloomberg broke the story earlier today, and also the AP, the BBC and Business Day have all weighed in.

UPDATE 2: I’ve seen a lot of commentary on this story in the interwebs suggesting that since there appears to be no test results from the Plaintiffs in this case that perhaps they are simply confusing high-gravity brewing with actively lowering the final alcohol percentage, which is a reasonable assumption. But there may be another possibility. Thanks to Stan at Appellation Beer for pointing out a post from last October by Gary Spedding at his Alcohol Beverage Testing News. I’ve known Gary for a number of years. He runs a lab in Kentucky called Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, LLC and also most years presents an orientation exercise for GABF judges the day before we start each year. It’s sort of a continuing education component of the judging experience. His presentations are always interesting and informative and, needless to say, Spedding’s expertise is unassailable.

Last October, he posted Gaining its airs and losing its graces — a Tale of Two Buds, which he wrote in response to a popular article last fall from Bloomberg Business Week entitled The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer. In addressing the suggestion in the article that Budweiser beer had changed after InBev took control of Anheuser-Busch, noted the following experiences he’d had with the beer in recent months.

Bud has been our control beer in our laboratory … for calibrating our alcohol instruments Bud goes in after calibration to see hopefully 5.00% abv. pretty much on the nose. Not so recently. Now as low as 4.94% after slipping from 4.98% earlier in the year. Losing it graces by higher airs it may be toppling from its top spot and is no longer our control beer of choice. But it is changing. A tale of two Buds (early and late) would reveal much more. Over the years the international bitterness content has declined from about 12 in the late 90′s to 7-8 today — another parameter to watch.

That original post also included a discussion of increasing oxygen levels, but Spedding had a lengthy discussion with Paul Cobet, who’s the Director of the Technical Center for ABI in St. Louis. The oxygen question is apparently now less of a concern and appears to be instrument-driven, and Gary updated that with a newer post, Regaining its Graces — Driving Oxygen Down — Good for Budweiser. So while the plaintiffs may not have tested the beer — still odd, admittedly — there is apparently some reason to think their case may hold water after all.

Here A Blue Law, There A Blue Law

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Given it’s a Sunday, when Blue Laws are usually in effect, I thought I’d share this comic strip by Danny Lewis, who’s an artist living in Massachusetts. Blue Laws, of course, are antiquated laws, usually religiously based.

A blue law is a type of law designed to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of a day of worship or rest. In the US, most blue laws have been repealed, declared unconstitutional, or are simply unenforced; though prohibitions on the sale of alcoholic beverages or prohibitions of almost all commerce on Sundays are still enforced in many areas. Blue laws often prohibit an activity only during certain hours and there are usually exceptions to the prohibition of commerce, like grocery and drug stores. In some places, blue laws may be enforced due to religious principles, but others are retained as a matter of tradition or out of convenience.

While most have been repealed, not all of them have been, and his comic strip talks about some of the remaining ones.

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Click here to see the cartoon full size.

State Beer Excise Tax Rates As Of 2011

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The Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank dedicated to al things taxable, had last week for their weekly Monday Maps on the Tax Foundation’s blog an infographic on State Beer Excise Tax Rates as of September 1, 2011. Alaska has the highest tax rate and Wyoming the lowest. And, of course, the chart doesn’t include the federal excise taxes breweries have to pay or any local taxes, either. Still, it’s always interesting to see the differences laid out on the map.

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Obviously, it’s hard to read at this size, but you can check it out full size at the Tax Foundation blog.

State Alcohol Administrators Slam Alcohol Justice

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You probably knew that each state has some form of an ABC, an alcohol control organization that after Prohibition was created to administer their state’s laws regarding alcohol. Not surprisingly, they also have an organization where the professionals in these state organizations can get together and share information, how they do things, and generally learn from and help one another be better at their jobs. It’s called the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, or NCSLA. Their stated purpose is:

The purposes of the Association shall be to promote the enactment of the most effective and equitable types of state alcoholic beverage control laws; to devise and promote the use of methods which provide the best enforcement of the particular alcoholic beverage control laws in each state; to work for the adoption of uniform laws insofar as they may be practicable; to promote harmony with the federal government in its administration of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act; and to strive for harmony in the administration of the alcoholic beverage control laws among the several states.

They have an annual convention where they get together, along with other events throughout the year. Also, in addition to the obvious members, it’s also open to distributors, suppliers, retailers, law firms, health organizations and anyone else with an interest in the administration of alcohol at the state and federal level.

Well. Earlier this week, Alcohol Justice posted a press release entitled Big Alcohol Dominates Alcohol Regulator Meeting, which touted an article in the new edition of the journal Addiction that they claim “Documents Unhealthy Influence of Alcohol Industry over State Regulators.” Not surprisingly, the author of the article, Sarah M. Mart, is the Director of Research for Alcohol Justice. So they created the propaganda, then promote it is as if it’s news and/or impartial information and it’s not surprising that it just happens to support their agenda. Is the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy lost on them?

In this case, the article, Top priorities for alcohol regulators in the United States: protecting public health or the alcohol industry?, purports to examine the “NCSLA Annual Meeting [that] took place 20–24 June 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.” Smart claims as a “finding” that “[m]ore than two-thirds (72.2%) of the 187 conference attendees were from alcohol producers, importers, wholesalers, retailers or their attorneys. Nearly two-thirds (65.0%) of the 40 panelists were from the alcohol industry. The author of this paper was the only attendee, and the only panelist, representing public health policy.”

In the press release, Alcohol Justice spins it this way.

In a peer-reviewed article in the February 2012 issue of Addiction, Sarah Mart, director of research at Alcohol Justice, has documented the alcohol industry’s excessive involvement in a 2010 annual conference of state liquor administrators.

“With alcohol use being the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S, you would think state regulator meetings would focus on the most effective and cost-effective ways to reduce alcohol-related harm,” stated Mart. “But this event was really about the industry’s agenda.”

Mart’s article details her experience at the annual National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA), which took place in June 2010. More than two-thirds (72%) of the 187 meeting attendees, and 65% of the panelists, were from the alcohol industry. The rest represented state alcohol control systems and federal government agencies. Mart was the only participant representing public health policy.

“The NCSLA is dominated by the global companies that produce, import, distribute and sell alcohol,” said Mart. “Not surprisingly, the Association’s liquor control agenda lacks public health considerations.”

On average, 79,000 deaths annually are attributed to alcohol consumption. In 2005, there were over 1.6 million hospitalizations and 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related causes. Alcohol-related costs to state budgets are staggering, yet this trade organization of state regulators, which could play an important role in reducing the harm, has no stated position supporting public health.

“Big Alcohol panelists actually sent regulators a warning message: Be industry-friendly. Don’t rock the boat of commerce with public health concerns, or your job may be on the line,” reported Mart. “The Federal officials that were present also spoke about supporting the industry, instead of protecting public safety. That was a disappointment.”

Sounds bad, right? Well, the NCSLA sees it a different way. They’ve now responded with their own press release telling the other side of this story.

NCSLA, The Inclusive Crucible Of Alcohol Policy Issues, Dismayed By Inaccuracies Of “Sour Grapes”

When requested to comment on the recent press release from an entity named “Alcohol Justice”(formerly known as The Marin Institute), NCSLA President William A. Kelley, Jr. today said,

“The National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (“NCSLA”) has for decades been the only organization of the 50 states with the sole clear, transparent and inclusive purpose of effectively controlling alcoholic beverages. That purpose cannot be effective without input from all interested parties. Indeed since this Nation was founded, the fundamental principle of American government has been to make decisions with the consent of the governed. That requires substantive communication with and consideration of the concerns and competing interests of those who would be subject to regulatory action by the federal and state government. This is the hallmark of a real democracy.

The NCSLA is dismayed at the conduct of any organization which has chosen to re-brand itself and seeks to create relevance for its new brand by pandering for headlines, while taking no real, affirmative action to support and defend the federal and state beverage alcohol regulators in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of state and federal government. These federal and state regulators stand alone as they fulfill their lawful obligations to strike a balance between the protection of the common good and the service of the public demand for the different sorts of alcoholic beverages made available by this legitimate, responsible industry.

The agenda of self-promotion by “Alcohol Justice” is obvious and unavailing. The telling fact is that the now re-branded entity formerly known Marin Institute has repeatedly chosen not to become a member of the NCSLA despite the numerous invitations that have been extended to them and the years of courtesies from the NCSLA they have enjoyed in the form of expense-paid attendance at NCSLA conferences and participation on NCSLA panels. It is equally telling that this statement comes when further special treatment has been denied this re-branded entity while at the same time it was directly invited and encouraged to join the NCSLA, take a seat at the proverbial table, but on the same terms as those long met by other public health and public advocacy groups. It is disheartening when any entity with substantial financial resources, yet without the economic hardships endured for years by state beverage alcohol regulators, appears content to do nothing.

The silence of this re-branded entity is deafening in the national dialogue that continues as Congress, The President of the United States, the people of the state of Washington and the representatives of the people in all the 50 states grapple with the modern issues of beverage alcohol control. This struggle is the American legacy of that failed experiment named “Prohibition.”

I look forward to the honor of leading the NCSLA when it convenes in Washington D.C. to continue its efforts in fostering principles and techniques of balanced alcoholic beverages control. Unfortunately it appears that this re-branded entity chooses to continue to sit on the sidelines in its complacency, fermenting in its sour grapes. Perhaps sometime soon the reality will be recognized that much is expected from those who are given much.”

Nicely said, Mr. Kelley. Nicely said.

Wisconsin Homebrewing Under Fire

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If you’re a homebrewer in Wisconsin, be careful not to leave the house with your beer. When they call it home brew, they really mean it. Apparently there’s a growing strict interpretation of the state’s laws regarding homebrewing — similar to what went down in Oregon recently — that could prevent homebrewers from taking their beer to competitions and homewbrew club meetings, or indeed just sharing it with friends. I first heard about it from Jason Heindel, the President of the Beer Barons of Milwaukee Cooperative, a local beer enthusiast and homebrew club. He’s written up a nice overview of what’s going on, which you can read below, modified slightly by me for the web:

“As some of you may be aware, there have been some developments in the past year with how the WI Department of Revenue interprets the current State Statues relative to homebrewing. The current statutes can be found here. If you take a strict interpretation of those statues, the only place one can make or enjoy your own home brewed beer is at your home or farm. This means you could not legally brew a beer and hand it over your fence to your neighbor. The Wisconsin statues are outdated and not conforming with the overall Federal statutes regarding homebrewing. One of the highlights of the Federal Statute is the following section:

§ 25.206 Removal of beer.

Beer made under §25.205 may be removed from the premises where made for personal or family use including use at organized affairs, exhibitions or competitions such as homemaker’s contests, tastings or judging. Beer removed under this section may not be sold or offered for sale.

All of those activities are not allowed by Wisconsin statute. So the State Fair beer and wine competitions would not be allowed, tastings and homebrew club meetings would also not be allowed.

A group was formed earlier this year to address these problems. The AHA formed the Wisconsin Homebrewer’s Alliance. The group was comprised of a member from as many homebrew clubs as we could find contacts for, homebrew shop owners, etc. This group has worked to introduce legislation to the Wisconsin Senate to correct these deficiencies. We have been asked to voice our support to our State Senators and Assembly members in support of this legislation. Take a look at the proposed legislation.

Now is the time for all Wisconsin Homebrewer’s to take action and ask for your representative’s to support this bill. Below is an except from an email to the Wisconsin Homebrewer’s Alliance from 1/5/2012:

‘Sen. Ellis’s office and a “Dear Colleague’ letter is going out within minutes asking for co-sponsorship of our legislation. The co-sponsorship period is for 2 weeks starting from today. So, now is the time for all of our memberss to contact their respective Clubs to get them to contact both of their legislators. The most sponsors that we can get the better. The legislation is LRB 3101 The Ellis/Kaufert legislation. We can also contact breweries, distributors, homebrew shops, etc.

Dan Grady, who’s spearheading the legislation, did give Heindel some words of warning. ‘Time is running short. The January floor period is taken up already leaving only February and March. The legislature is going to shut ASAP due to the recalls.’”

Wow, that’s not good. If you live in Wisconsin and want to see homebrewing continue to flourish, find your local legislators and contact them immediately.

Hammurabi: First King Of Beer

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I kept forgetting to post this nice piece about King Hammurabi, the Babylonian ruler responsible for mankind’s first set of laws, known as the Hammurabi Code. It ran in the San Francisco magazine Drink Me, in their October 2011 issue. The article, Hammurabi: The King Of Beers, goes into some deatil about the laws in the Hammurabi Code dealing with beer:

The Code contains dozens of edicts concerning the growing, harvesting, and sale of grain. Thus it pertains to beer, since grain had been domesticated and farmed for only two reasons:beer and bread. But the laws which deal specifically with those happy suds are numbers 108 through 111.

Law 108 reads as follows: “if a tavern-keeper (female) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.” There are a couple of important things to clarify here. First, it is of interest that the regulation goes out of its way to specify that the hypothetical tavern-keeper is female.

In ancient Babylon, almost all tavern-keepers (not to mention brewers, generally) were women.

Men hunted and made war; women grew food and made beer. And second, “shall be… thrown into the water” does not mean that the offending tavern-keeper was merely tossed in the nearest river and left to sputter. It meant that the guilty party was thrown into the nearest river and held there until she stopped sputtering. Additions to Babylonian law made after Hammurabi’s death did away with the drowning of offending barkeeps and replaced it with mutilation of the woman’s breasts. Sheesh…

Like most despotic rulers, Hammurabi was seriously paranoid that his subjects were plotting against his authority. One of the central meeting places for average citizens in Babylon was the beer hall. These were, or were thought to be, hotbeds of sedition, which inevitably led to the creation of Law 109: “if conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.” The method of execution favored here was to drown the wrongdoer in a barrel of her own beer. Given the amount of political sniping that goes on in our bars today, we can be thankful (I think) that Law 109 has gone the way of the dodo bird.

And then there were the nuns. Called “sisters of god,” they were holy women dedicated to one of the numerous gods that populated Babylonian mythology. The nuns were expected to behave according to a quite rigid set of moral protocols, and the punishments for failing to do so were, to say the least, horrifying. As an example we need look no further than Law 110: “if a sister of a god open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.” Given that the Law specifically prohibits the sisters from not only drinking in a beer house, but going into business as a beer entrepreneur, we can only imagine that these actions were routinely undertaken by Babylon’s holy ladies. And the menfolk must have really hated them for breaking with the norm. Burning a woman alive for having a drink? Wow.

The final Law governing alcohol is 111, and it reads thusly: “if an inn-keeper furnish sixty ka [a unit of measure similar to a bushel] of drink to the city, she shall receive fifty ka of corn at the harvest.” It is a rather dull little edict; Babylonian capitalism in action. But at least no one gets drowned or burned.