Bell’s To Brew At De Proef

SBS Imports of Seattle, Washington has announced that Bell’s Brewery has agreed to be the 2009 partner for the latest brew in the De Proef Brewmaster’s Collaboration Series. The yet to be designed beer will be brewed in March at De Proef in Lochristi, Belgium and released to the USA market in September 2009.

The initial beer in the series was Signature Ale – originally brewed in 2007 with Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey. Jason Perkins of Allagash collaborated in 2008 on Les Deux Brasseurs. Both beers have been exceptionally well-received by beer enthusiasts.

De Proef

“Each year it is my pleasure to invite a noted American brewer to participate in this series,” noted SBS Founder Alan Shapiro. “I am thrilled that John Mallet & Bell’s have agreed to be the 2009 partner.”

“I am really looking forward to this project,” added Bell’s Production Manager, John Mallet. “I have several family ties to the area which makes this invite to brew with Dirk Naudts at De Proef even more special.”


Old Rasputin XI

North Coast Old Rasputin XI Available Friday, November 28th Only At the Brewery in Fort Bragg, California.

Old Rasputin XI

North Coast Brewing has been making exceptional beers for over 20 years now. The Brew Guide has called them, “very big, very complex and downright kick-ass.” And, one of the biggest and most kick-ass has been their Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. With a string of 12 Gold Medals dating back to 1996, Old Rasputin has developed a cult following. So would it be possible to improve upon that huge, robust coffee and chocolate flavor profile?

Old Rasputin XI

Check it out! On Wednesday, November 26, North Coast will bottle the long-awaited Old Rasputin XI to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the first bottling of Old Rasputin. This special batch of Old Rasputin has been aging for a year in oak bourbon barrels, and it is truly amazing — even more depth and complexity than we had hoped for. Old Rasputin XI will be available only at the Brewery retail store in Fort Bragg beginning on Friday, November 28 — the day after Thanksgiving. It will be packaged in a 500 ml bottle with commemorative label and a cork and cage finish at $12.95 per bottle. Limit is one case per customer. Some for now, some for cellaring. Sorry, they are unable to ship beer to consumers.


Pike To Release Entire Wood-Aged Stout Monday

Pike Entire is a blend of three beers: Pike’s XXXXX Extra Stout, (7% abv); the same beer aged for more than half a year in oak Bourbon barrels; and an Imperial Stout (12% abv). The Entire blend contains 42.7% barrel aged beer and finishes at 9.5% alcohol by volume. The taste is complex with velvety malt tones, a coffee aroma, and a palate and finish of bitter chocolate. The biscuity character of pale and crystal malts, along with roasted barley, is balanced by a generous amount of Yakima Valley Willamette, Goldings and Columbus hops in the boil; finished with even more Willamette and Goldings. Adding complexity are the underlying wood tones perfumed by the caramel sweetness of wood-aged Kentucky Bourbon.

Pike Wood-Aged Stout

In order to brew a beer in keeping with the original style but still distinctly American, Pike acquired oak Bourbon barrels last year and filled them with Pike XXXXX Extra Stout in April 2008 to be blended back. Pike Head Brewer, Drew Cluley, describes the beer as “complex and chocolaty with a great vanilla wood overtone.”

On Monday, November 24, 2008, Pike Entire, in wax-dipped 22 oz. bottles, will be released. It will have very limited availabilty at the Pike Pub and in select bottle shops, primarily in the Seattle area. A few quarter-barrels will be released for sale on draft. The Pike Pub will tap its one and only quarter-barrel of Pike Entire on Friday, November 28.

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Iron Hill Bottles Lambic-Style Beers

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, the popular food and drink destination with seven area locations, has announced the release of four lambic-style beers in bottles: Kreik de Hill, Lambic de Hill, Framboise de Hill, and Cassis de Hill. Iron Hill will host two release parties, at the Wilmington and Media locations, to give beer enthusiasts an opportunity to sample the different styles, speak with the brewers who created them and purchase the award-winning beers.

“It takes 3 to 4 years to make one batch of lambic beer. In the past, we’ve only offered these beers at special events,” says Director of Brewing Operations Mark Edelson, “We are excited to now be able to make them available to everyone who appreciates these great beers.”

Iron Hill’s four lambic-style beers are their most awarded varieties. The Lambic has won two gold medals in 2008 and 2003 from the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the Kreik one gold in 2005 and one bronze in 2007, the Cassis one bronze in 2008 and the Framboise a bronze in 2004 from the World Beer Cup (WBC).

Iron Hill Lambic

Iron Hill Lambic is a traditional Belgian-style lambic beer made with wild yeast and bacteria and aged in oak barrels for at least two years. It is golden-yellow in color and unfiltered, with a complex aroma of bananas, oak and hay and a nutty flavor that gives way to intense sour notes.

Iron Hill Lambic

Cassis is a lambic-style beer that is aged in oak barrels with black currants, which lend the beer a violet color and berry aroma.

Iron Hill Lambic

Framboise ages in oak barrels with fresh raspberries; it is ruby red in color and balanced between lambic sourness and sweet raspberry notes.

Iron Hill Lambic

Kreik is aged in oak barrels with sour cherries, light red in color and also delicately balanced between sour and fruity-sweet.


InBev Closes Anheuser-Busch Takeover

According to the Associated Press and otehrs, InBev is reporting that the deal to acquire Anheuser-Busch is officially closed. Beginning today, the new company — Anheuser-Busch InBev — will be the largest beer company in the world and in the top 5 of “global consumer products companies.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Other accounts include more details, such as CNN Money, WGN Chicago, St. Louis Today .

From St. Louis Today:

InBev says its main goals — besides running its current operations — are to mesh the two big companies, pay off debt and deliver promised “synergies.” Those include $1.5 billion in cost cuts over three years.

They’ve already launched a new website under the new name, Anheuser-Busch InBev


Germans, Americans one-two in Beer Star Awards

American breweries claimed 27 medals in the 2008 European Beer Star Awards, second only to host Germany, whose brewers took home 61.

The winners of the competition, judged in October, were announced at BRAU-Beviele, the giant brewing trade show in Nuremberg.

High Falls Brewing in Rochester, N.Y. grabbed two golds, with Genesee winning for “Bottom fermented beer with alternatives cereals or field crops” and Dundee Honey Brown for Specialty Honey.

Oregon breweries Deschutes Brewery and BridgePort Brewing both won gold with English-style beers. Deschutes’ Mirror Pond Pale Ale was top English Pale Ale, and BridgePort ESP won English-Style Best Bitter. California’s Firestone Walker captured gold for Union Jack IPA, repeating its recent triumph at the Great American Beer Festival. And Left Hand Brewing of Colorado took gold in Sweet Stout with Lefthand Milk Stout, which had won the silver in 2007.

The results.


Labatt USA To Be Sold

Though it won’t stop the deal from closing, the Department of Justice placed one condition on their approval, which was given on Friday, a mere two days after A-B shareholders approved it. DOJ approval was one of the remaining items on the laundry list of “to do” items that had be ticked off in order to complete the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by InBev.

Labatt Blue

That condition is that Labatt USA must be sold off within an unsepcificed period of time, though present contracts will remain in force for three years. The DOJ’s rationale was that without a sale by A-BIB of Labatt USA prices to consumers would be expected to rise in Buffalo and other parts of northern New York due to the sudden lack of competition the merger brings. About half of the Labatt beer sold in the U.S> is sold in that area.

The Buffalo News has the full story, and there’s an AP article as well.


Bounty on December 5th Birthdays

Wanted: 21-year-old, 75-year-old to Lead Repeal of Prohibition March

21st Amendment Brewery is offering a $75 bounty for a San Franisco Bay Area resident turning 75 on December 5, which is the 75th Anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. In addition, they are offering a $25 bounty for someone turning 21 on the same day. The birthday boy(s)/girl(s) will lead a We Want Beer! March on Friday afternoon, Dec. 5, at 4:00 p.m.

“The Repeal of Prohibition is near and dear to our hearts,” said Shaun O’Sullivan, Chief Hop Head for The 21A. “We don’t usually need an excuse for a party, but this is such a good one that we’re having a parade, too.”

Local residents with a 21st or 75th birthday on December 5, or who know someone with a 21st or 75th birthday on December 5, are asked to contact 21A at 21st Amendment is offering a bounty for the first person who introduces them to each Grand Marshal. Grand Marshals can claim the bounty by introducing themselves. Full instructions for claiming the bounty are posted on 21st Amendment’s blog.

Beer Parade

The We Want Beer! March will begin at 4:00 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza (1 Market St, at Embarcadero) and end at 21st Amendment Brewery, located at 563 2nd Street, San Francisco. The pub will be transformed into a prohibition-ending celebration, complete with a speakeasy in the mezzanine that will require a password to enter.

“We’ll share the password with the Grand Marshals, but everyone else will have to find the password themselves,” said O’Sullivan. Password retrieval instructions will be distributed Dec. 1 via Twitter and the 21st Amendment blog.

Potential Grand Marshals must be able to provide proof of their December 5, 1987 or December 5, 1933 birthday, and they’ll need to provide their own transportation to the march. “But we’ll help them get home safely after the party,” he said.


I Survived GABF 2008

The 27th annual Great American Beer Festival is over and, now that my liver and other assorted organs have sufficiently recovered, I can tell you all about it. This was my 8th foray into the lunacy that is the GABF. The week of the event is always a very busy drinking week for me. Let me give you a little taste, you know…an ounce at a time, of the most hallowed week in the beer-year.

GABF began modestly in 1982, held at Boulder’s Harvest House hotel, with 22 breweries, 40 beers and 800 total attendees. That’s a very small festival by today’s standards. The festival has grown from those early days in Boulder to a mega-fest that draws beer enthusiasts from over the globe to Denver. The 2008 festival had 432 participating breweries, 1800 beers on tap, and a total attendance of 46,000 people.

Okay, gulp that down and let’s move on. As tradition dictates, the first night, Wednesday, starts with the annual brewer’s dinner at the Wynkoop brewpub. Founded by brewer and the now Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, the Wynkoop is a great example of early 1900’s architecture, with lots of wood, pressed tin ceilings, and the beautiful original bar from Denver’s old Tivoli Brewery (1900-1969). Three levels of entertainment await inside, Impulse Theater and the brewery in the basement, drinking and dining on the main floor, and the pool-hall-of-your-dreams upstairs.

As usual, the place was packed with the Who’s Who of craft brewing and I was right in there rubbing elbows with them, which can get pretty messy when everyone is holding a beer and a plateful of finger-food. Special libation stations were set up in strategic locations with craft beers specially donated by the brewers for this event. Were they good? Oh my, yes. Can I remember their names? Not really. (Sorry, when you have as few functioning brain cells as I do you have to economize) Wait, there was one…Alaskan Brewing brought a keg of fourteen year-old Smoked Porter which everyone raved about and no one dared cue up for more than once because they wanted to make sure everyone got a little. The aged beer was a delight. Its slightly smoky nose was followed by a soft malty taste highlighted with notes of sherry, currant, and raisin. A light bite of hops and mild smoke in the finish made it the most perfectly aged smoked porter I’ve ever had.

Moving on from the Winkoop, (Don’t forget to rinse your glass between samples!) I moseyed on over to another place synonymous with Denver and great beer, The Falling Rock Tap House in LODO. If you visit Falling Rock during GABF go early or brace for crowds that make a rush hour Tokyo subway train seem spacious in comparison. The Falling Rock has the best tap selection I’ve seen in Denver. They’ve also cultivated a great relationship with the craft beer community. That means if you want to meet Rogue Ales founder Jack Joyce, go hang out at the Falling Rock. Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, hang out at the Falling Rock. Brooklyn Brewery’s Garret Oliver? Hang out at the Falling Rock. Looking for me? Check the Hooters across the street. (Just kidding, the Hooters closed last year.) In short, everyone who’s anyone in beer eventually ends up at the falling Rock; it’s the “Wailing Wall” of the Denver beer-scene.

On Thursday I was up at the crack of noon with a slight thumping between my ears. I scraped the crust from my eyes and made my way over to Michelob’s media event for a little hair of the dog. Michelob was introduced by Anheuser Bush in 1896 as a “draft beer for connoisseurs”, and they’ve maintained that connoisseur image thru the years. As craft beer gained ground in the marketplace Michelob expanded their craft efforts. Currently they offer 15 styles. Most of the beers I tasted were pretty good; my favorites were the Shock Top Belgian Wit and Honey Lager. The food at the event was, of course, stellar, and I would have liked to hang out and eat 10 to 20 more pounds of shrimp but the opening of GABF loomed and I had to be there.


I counted myself lucky as I entered the Colorado Convention Center, using my sacred press credentials to avoid the mile-long line of beer enthusiasm snaking around the building. The event had sold out yet again, at $50 apiece an impressive accomplishment in these trying economic times.

I positioned myself in a place I wouldn’t be likely to be run over by crazed beer enthusiasts, less than 20 feet away were 1800 beers (2052 beers if you include those sent in for judging only). Beers with legendary names like Dreadnaught, Midas Touch, and Abyss; Scary names like Double Dead Guy Ale, Blind Pig IPA, and Dragonstooth Stout; Provocative names like Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout, Mr. Banana Grabber, and In Heat Wheat; and fun names like Smoked Frog, Le Freak, and Naughty Goose. All so close now the air crackled with excitement.

Opening Charge

When the magic time tolled, I was there, clicking away with my camera, documenting the traditional headlong rush of humanity. Up the stairs they came, wild-eyed with excitement and dressed for Mardi gras, except instead of beads most wore necklaces of pretzels. Were these hardy enthusiasts up to the challenge of consuming over 18,000 gallons of America’s best craft beer? You betcha!

Beer Bunny

The rest of the opening day was a blur of smiling faces, rolling roars that sprang forth with every cup drop, and lots and lots of craft beer. There’s something funny that happens when you’re tasting beer after beer, each good in its own way, then you hit something superior, special, and it stops you in your tracks. I found several standouts that first night. The first was when I reacquainted my taste buds with New Belgium Abby Ale, a truly great beer. How could I forget how good it is? Other beers I paused to savor were Portsmouth Brewery’s fantastic oatmeal stout and Gordon Biersch’s Vienna Spezil. Gordon Biersch also had the strangest beer I tried that day, Berliner Weiss. It tasted a little like Apple Jacks cereal. Since I always liked Apple Jacks it wasn’t bad, just a little strange.

A dizzying number of events filled the Friday to-do list before the fest reopened. Starting with the annual media event where I was treated to a wonderful beer-paired meal.

  • Appetizer – white bean custard with greens and caramelized onion vinaigrette paired with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Salad- Bittersweet field greens, bittersweet chocolate, nuts, Asiago cheese and berries covered with a light balsamic vinaigrette paired with Red Rock Organic Zwickelbier.
  • Entrée – Short ribs served with a port and pomegranate sauce and savanna grits paired with Left Hand Black Jack Porter. (My favorite pairing on the menu.)
  • Dessert – Fudge Stout Brownies paired with Stone’s 12th anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. (I don’t really care for the intense bitterness of this beer by itself but, paired with the brownie, it was delicious.)
    The rest of the day was filled with things like a walking tour of Denver’s beer scene led by Dr. Colorado (Tom Noel), The Roots Party (Redrock Mead), American Ale event (Anheuser Busch), Philly Beerweek event, and the Flying Dog Party. After all that it was time to go back to the convention Center for a new round of tastings. I found another handful of standouts as I worked the floor – Maui Brewing Company’s Coconut Stout and Pearl Stout (aged in rum barrels), Issaquah Brewing Company’s Menage A Frog, Iron Hill Brewery’s Saison, Bear Republic’s APEX IPA, and Troeg’s Troegenator Double Bock

Happy Cow

It’s worth mentioning that there’s more than just beer sampling happening on the fest floor each day. I enjoyed the live game show “Win Beer Stein’s Money” on the main stage hosted by Celebrator magazine’s Tom Dalldorf. Silent Disco was back, a spectacle of headphone clad dancers gyrating to music only they could hear. You could find out how to be a beer judge one on one from the GABF beer judges. There are ongoing beer-themed cooking demonstrations, beer book signings, a Fresh Hop beer booth, The Canned Beer Symposium, the ProAm competition, etc. So forgive me if I missed something.

Call Me Crabby

Saturday started early as I dragged my poor tired bones to finals of the LongShot homebrew competition. Samuel Adam’s LongShot competition drew more than 1,300 consumer entries in 2008. This year’s winner was Alex Drobshoff of California. Carissa Sweigart won the employee brewing contest. Drobshoff’s Traditional Bock and Sweigart’s Cranberry Wit will join last years winning Double IPA made by Mike McDole in the new LongShot six pack to be released in April.
Another Homebrew competition culminating during GABF was the 2008 Pro-Am Competition. The GABF Pro-Am entries are brewed by professional craft brewers based on award winning homebrew recipes from American Homebrewers Association (AHA) members. Homebrew recipes are scaled up and brewed at a craft brewery for submission into the competition. Medals for the 2008 annual GABF Pro-Am Competition were sponsored by Briess Malt and HopUnion. Of the 58 entries in the 2008 Pro-Am Competition, the following winners were chosen:

  • Gold – Barking Dog Scottish Ale, brewed by Big Time Brewing Co., Bill Jenkins and AHA Member Jeff Niggemeyer
  • Silver – Bamberg Hellerbock, brewed by Starr Hill Brewing Co., Matt Reich and AHA Member Lyle Brown.
  • Bronze – Irish Red, brewed by Odell Brewing Co., Doug Odell and AHA Member Alex Grote.

Saturday was also the day the annual Alpha King Competition was held in the basement of the Falling Rock Tap House. The Alpha King contest has been held during the Great American Beer Festival for the last 10 years and it’s always held in the basement of the Falling Rock Tap House. The Alpha King is a high IBU pucker-fest as bottle after bottle of extra hoppy beer is poured for eager fans while the judges ponder the hopitude of each beer behind closed doors. Port Brewing’s Hop 15 was proclaimed the 2008 Alpha King – this year’s hoppiest beer in America. Ralph Olson of Hopunion presented the crown of hops to Port’s head brewer Tomme Arthur. The Runner up was Boundary Bay IPA. (Boundary Bay Brewing won this national contest two years ago.) Third place prize went to Chama River Brewing Company’s March Hare.
The rest of the day was a blur of awards presentations and more sampling on the GABF floor. The most memorable part of the awards presentation was when Mayor John Hickenlooper brought his young son up on the stage with him.

Mayor Hickenlooper

While he was talking his son began to mug for the crowd. I’m not sure who was being applauded at the end, John for his speech, or the kid for keeping us entertained during it. If you’d like to see who won medals at this years GABF visit the Brewers Association.

Thumbs Up

There seemed to be a lot of state pride in the cheering during the presentations so I thought I’d mention the top-five states by medal wins at the 2008 GABF.

  1. California (39)
  2. Colorado (34)
  3. Oregon (19)
  4. Wisconsin (15)
  5. New York/Pennsylvania (tied with 10)

Did that seem like a pretty hectic 4 day schedule to you? Are you feeling a little dizzy? GABF is intense! As I wedged myself into my airline seat early Sunday morning my mind was spinning as I pondered how to cover it all here. If this article seems rushed, disjointed, and a bit strained… welcome to my world… and welcome to GABF, a beer festival like no other.

More GABF pictures can be found at Flickr.

Pictures of all medal winners can be seen at this Flick photo set.


Beer Book: Christmas Beers

This may be the best Christmas present for a beer lover … ever, at least in terms of its connection to the season. Christmas Beer, or the full title, which is “Wishing You a Merry Christmas Beer, The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews, is all about beer for the holidays. Lavishly illustrated with more holiday beers than you knew even existed, author Don Russell — better known to the world as Philadelphia beer columnist “Joe Sixpack” — recounts tale after tale of the traditions and history that made holiday beers so special. There are also recipes, trivia and Russell’s list of the “World’s 50 Best Christmas Beers.”

Christmas Beer

Published by Rizzoli Books with a list price of $19.95 in the U.S. ($22.95 in Canada), you can order one at Amazon right now for $13.57, a savings of 32%. Pick one up for yourself and all the beer lovers on your shopping list. The book is even small enough to fit in the average Christmas stocking. In the interest of full disclosure, Don is a friend of mine and a crack card player. But this book is so much fun, that I’d give it my highest recommendation even if that weren’t the case.


Anheuser-Busch Shareholders Approve InBev Takeover

Anheuser-Busch today announced that a majority of its shareholders have voted to approve the proposed combination between InBev and Anheuser-Busch during a special shareholder meeting held today.

At the closing of the transaction, Anheuser-Busch shareholders will be entitled to receive $70 in cash for each share of outstanding Anheuser-Busch stock, and Anheuser-Busch will become a wholly owned subsidiary of InBev. Closing of the transaction remains subject to necessary regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. A closing date has not been announced, but the parties continue to expect the deal to close before the end of the year. InBev shareholders approved the combination on Sept. 29.

“The proposed merger between Anheuser-Busch and InBev under consideration today was a difficult decision for our board to make,” said August A. Busch IV, president and CEO, in comments made during the meeting. “In the end, the board determined that the InBev proposal is in the best interest of our shareholders. The merger also provides a promising future for our beer brands and for all stakeholders — employees, wholesalers, retailers and our consumers.”


“Under the merger, the new company will expand Budweiser into new markets around the world, fulfilling the global ambitions my family has long dreamed about for this great American brand. I’m proud that the Budweiser tradition and our 150-year commitment to delivering the best brewed beer in the world will live on,” said Busch. “I want to sincerely thank our shareholders for the support they have given me and this great company for so many years.”

August A. Busch IV will be a director of the newly combined company, which will take the name Anheuser-Busch InBev.

“The iconic beer brands, world-famous advertising, A&Eagle symbol, the Budweiser Clydesdales, and most importantly, the people of Anheuser-Busch who’ve dedicated themselves to quality in the beer and throughout the business, combined have given Anheuser Busch meaning far beyond its stock value,” said W. Randolph Baker, vice president and chief financial officer of Anheuser-Busch. “As we move toward closing, Anheuser-Busch Companies wishes to thank all Anheuser Busch shareholders for their investment in the company over the years.”


Can the Beer Coaster Be Improved Upon?

A pair of bartenders are banking that they can, and have a patent pending on The Seat Saver, a new twist on an old design. Whether round …

Square Coaster

Square, …

Round Coaster

or oddly shaped …

Odd Coaster

It’s a pretty simple but ultimately very useful piece of cardboard, the mainstay of bars since at least 1880, when they first appeared in Weisenbach, Germany. By 1893, the paper pulp variety we’re familiar with today was patented in Dresden Germany. A few years later, breweries started adorning them with their brand logos. By 1918, they began appearing in England. Their official name is not beer coaster, actually, but “beer mat.” Believe it or not, more than 20,000 different styles have been produced, Guinness alone having made over 1,000. Collecting them is called “Tegestology,” with collectors known as tegestologists.

Seat Saver Coaster

Now comes the newest version of the humble beer mat, the Seat Saver, invented by two bartenders. The innovation is simple enough, adding a small hole in one corner.

Seat Saver Coaster

This allows you to place the seat saver over your bottle while you’re outside having a smoke, answering the phone or making room for more beer.

Seat Saver Coaster

The new coasters can be printed like any other coaster, and several beer and spirits companies are already ordering them to advertise their brands, so you should start seeing these in a bar near you soon.


Sawyer’s Triple Returns

Stone Brewing has announced the return of one of their most beloved and most nobly crafted beers, Sawyer’s Triple, available beginning tomorrow, November 11. As you may recall, they originally brewed this Belgian-style ale back in 2003 to raise both awareness and funds for the fight against ALD (Adrenoleukodystrophy). The beer itself is named in honor and remembrance of Sawyer Sherwood, son of Stone team member Bill Sherwood. For more information about this beer and the cause it supports, check out Stone’s new blog.

Stone Sawyer's Triple

If you want to buy some Sawyer’s Triple, here’s what you need to know:

  • Bottles of Sawyer’s Triple will be available for sale at the Stone Company Store starting Tuesday, November 11th. The 22 oz bottles will sell for $6 each (plus tax and CRV).
  • Sawyer’s Triple will be available on draft as well at the Stone World Bistro & Gardens for $6 a pint.
  • As before, absolutely 100% of the proceeds will go to charity; specifically, to Fight ALD!, the research and education foundation started by Janis Sherwood.
  • Although the sale of Stone Special Release beers has often been limited to 2 or 3 bottles per person, there will be no such limit for Sawyer’s Triple. Please note, however, no “case discount” will be in effect in order to provide Fight ALD with as much funding as possible.
  • Currently, Sawyer’s Triple is available for sale exclusively here at Stone.

California Proposes Increasing Beer Tax

Those nattering nabobs of negativity, the Marin Institute, are gleefully spreading the word that the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is proposing to raise the tax on beer in order to get California out of the mess that he and the rest of the gang of idiots — collectively known as politicians — got themselves into, dragging us down with them while constantly trying to figure out how to make us pay for their mistakes. So no, I don’t feel too strongly about this issue.

Naturally, they’re characterizing it as a “modest” proposal and continue to justify it with faulty arguments and no understanding of history. But you’ve got to love how they feel about those of us in the beer business. “Despite the whining by industry about a tax increase, the time has come for Big Alcohol to pay its fair share of the cost burden of problem drinking in California. They’ve dodged the bullet for too long.” So I think it’s fair of me to point out that I’ve been quite correct in saying that they’ve been shooting at us, gunning for us, trying to bring us down. They chose the perfect way to phrase that, some old-fashioned honesty for a change. The neo-prohibitionists have been attacking our industry, and we’ve been dodging their bullets. But responding to those premeditated attacks, and trying to defend ourselves, that they consider “whining.” Really? For Schwarzenegger it may be about the money, but for these chuckleheads it’s moral indignation.

So here’s the lie. The neo-prohibitionists talk about how little taxes are paid on beer, as if breweries are getting away with something. Or that it’s the responsibility of alcohol companies to pay for how a minority of drinkers abuse it and exercise incredibly poor judgment. They don’t seem nearly as quick to make gun makers responsible for a crime committed using one of their guns. They’re not suggesting fast food companies be held accountable for their role in creating an obese, unhealthy populace and placing a huge burden on medical facilities. They want beer companies to pay for medical expenses supposedly caused by a minority of their customers abusing alcohol. Please explain to me how that’s different from the health risks posed by fast food, soda, red meat, and all manner of overindulgences? And what industry does the most harm and places the biggest costs on our society? That would be the automotive industry, along with the the related oil interests.

But let’s assume, just for talking about it, that beer should pay those taxes. Le’s get back to that notion that the industry is getting away with something, underpaying our “fair share,” as it were. The state excise taxes that they’re talking about bumping up a nickel, and saying that they haven’t been raised since 1992 is, of course, nowhere near the whole story.

Tax Man

In addition to those taxes, breweries pay many other taxes on the beer you enjoy. It’s not just that one tax. In fact, about 44% of the cost of your beer goes to taxes of one kind or another? That’s nearly half! Here’s a list of many of the taxes that go into that 44%.

Taxes Paid On Beer

  • Federal Excise Tax on Beer
  • State Excise Tax on Beer
  • State Sales Tax on Beer
  • State Sales Tax on Federal Excise Tax
  • State Sales Tax on State Excise Tax
  • County Sales Tax on Beer
  • County Sales Tax on Federal Excise Tax
  • County Sales Tax on State Excise Tax
  • Federal Income Tax
  • Federal Payroll Tax
  • Workmen’s Compensation Taxes
  • Unemployment Insurance Taxes
  • State Property Tax
  • Local Property Tax
  • Federal State and County Gas Taxes
  • Tire Excise Tax
  • Truck Highway Use Taxes
  • Heavy Truck Excise Taxes
  • Telephone Excise Tax
  • Business License Fees
  • State Insurance Premiums Tax

But wait. Don’t other businesses pay all of those taxes, too? Why yes they do, all except the excises taxes, state and federal, and the taxes on the excise taxes. Those are unique to alcohol (and also tobacco) and are, I think, at the heart of what’s wrong with the neo-prohibitionists argument. But I’ll go into that later. For now, what do those additional unique taxes add to what other businesses have to pay in order to do business. “According to a 2005 study by Global Insight and the Parthenon Group, more than 40% of every beer sold in the United States is consumed by taxes. In fact, the total tax burden adds up to nearly 70% more than the average amount of tax paid in the U.S. on all other purchases. That represents well above $10 billion in extra taxes paid on beer.” So much for the beer industry not paying its fair share.

But where did that excise tax come from? Why do brewers pay it now, when no other industry, save tobacco, has to? Well the history of excise taxes stretches back to the Civil War, or War Between the States for my southern readers. During Lincoln’s first term, the North had to raise money to finance the Civil War and they turned to the beer industry, among others, to help finance the war effort.

In Brewing Battles, by Amy Mittleman, she details how in July of 1861, the US Congress (or a least what was left of it in the north) levied the first income tax on the remaining states in order to raise money to fight the war with the southern states. By the end of the year, Congress realized it wasn’t enough and they needed a way to raise more funds for the war. In a special session in December 1861, Congress reviewed a request by the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, to raise the percentage of income tax slightly and levy excise taxes on a number of goods, including beer, distilled spirits, cotton, tobacco, carriages (the automobiles of the day), yachts, pool tables and even playing cards, to name a few. The amendments passed, and Lincoln signed them into law July 1, 1862. They took effect September 1. Several weeks later, the first trade organization of brewers, the United States Brewers Association (USBA), was founded in New York.

Excise taxes are a “type of tax charged on goods produced within the country (as opposed to customs duties, charged on goods from outside the country).” The excise taxes were intended to be “temporary” but it was the beginning of temperance sentiments in the nation, and many people objected to alcohol on moral grounds. In the decade following the war, most were rescinded, but the taxes on alcohol and tobacco were the only two to remain in force, and in fact are still in effect today.

The only reason these excise taxes remained after the Civil War was primarily on moral grounds, coming from prohibitionist organizations. And I think that’s still relevant in 2008 because today’s neo-prohibitionists are also trying to use a moral sledgehammer to raise taxes on alcohol in an effort to put beer companies out of business and/or bring about another national prohibition. In state legislatures in many states, neo-prohibitionist groups are trying a variety of tactics to further their agenda. Usually it’s couched in propaganda that pretends they’re concerned for the children, or people’s health or some other hollow claim that hides their true aims.

I still find the argument strange that there should be higher taxes on products some people find morally objectionable. I find soda morally objectionable because it’s so unhealthy that it’s contributing to a nation of obese kids (and adults) — not to mention that beer in moderation is much healthier for you. But I wouldn’t argue pop should have an excise tax. The very concept of a so-called “sin” tax seems antithetical to the separation of church and state. Sin is a religious concept, and should play no role whatsoever in our government. Making people pay a higher price for goods that other people don’t like seems not only a little cruel, but also contrary to freedom of religion, because those are the morals people are using to deny people getting (or making prohibitively expensive) certain goods that not everyone agrees are sins. By using one set of morals as the basis for a particular law (in this case an excise tax) it ignores other sets of morals that differ from the prevailing one. That’s how a theocracy works, and we’re not one yet, despite recent efforts to make religion a central issue in government.

Beer Excise Tax Map

That’s the federal excise tax, and there’s an interesting part of that story, too, which we’ll get to. After Prohibition ended in 1933, most states imposed a new state excise tax as a part of allowing alcohol back into society legally. Today, each state’s excise tax is very different, with Alaska being the highest and Wyoming the lowest. California’s in the middle, tied at 21st (see this chart of State Beer Excise Tax Rates). And it’s that particular tax that California wants to raise a nickel now. So let’s return to the neo-prohibitionist argument that the California excise tax hasn’t been raised since 1991. What they don’t mention is that around the very same time, the tax burden for breweries jumped up considerably, when Congress doubled the federal excise tax in 1991, jumping from $9 per barrel to $18!

Here’s what happened, from Roll Back the Beer Tax:

In 1990, Congress raised taxes on luxury items like expensive cars, fur coats, jewelry, yachts, and private airplanes and doubled the federal excise tax on beer. This was the largest single increase in the tax on beer in American history and resulted in some 60,000 people losing their jobs in brewing, distributing, retailing and related industries.

Today, all of the other luxury taxes have been repealed, but the beer tax remains in place. The tax burden on beer is far higher than the average consumer good in the American economy. Astonishingly, over 40% of the cost of every beer sold is comprised of taxes. This means working Americans continue to reach into their pockets to pay the beer tax … at the rate of $5.2 billion a year.

And here’s why excise taxes are such a bad deal for the economy:

A tax is considered regressive if it falls more heavily on lower- and middle-income families than on the wealthy. And this is certainly true with beer taxes. This has long been recognized, but perhaps underappreciated. Analyses based on recent data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey clearly show that beer taxes are very regressive, as a percentage of income, costing lower- and middle-income households many times more than those with more comfortable incomes. A recent Beer Institute analysis found that beer taxes are actually 6.5 times higher as a percent of income for lower-income households (those earning less than $20,000 per year) compared to higher-income households (earning $70,000+ per year). As a result, the tax on beer is one of the most regressive of all taxes in the federal and states’ tax codes.

Viewed another way, 50% of all beer, is purchased by families with incomes of $50,000 or less, though these households account for less than one-fourth of all income earned in the U.S.

Sadly, the fact that beer taxes are very regressive has been known for quite some time, yet they continue to persist. A strong case can be made for rolling back or reducing beer taxes, based on the simple fact that research has exposed – notably, by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) – that the overall tax systems in many cases are already disturbingly regressive with many becoming decidedly more regressive in the past decade or more. According to the report, “sales and excise taxes are the most regressive element in most state and local tax systems.”

But let’s get back to California’s proposal. Here’s the language from the budget proposal (it’s an image because the pdf is locked for copying the text. If you have trouble reading this, download the original pdf for the Budget Proposal):

Cal Budget Prposal

So let’s go the Funding Realignment, as they suggest. This is undoubtedly what the Marin Institute is crowing about when they say revenues from the new tax will be “providing critical support to programs that deal specifically with alcohol-related problems.”

Cal Budget Prposal

But take a closer look at that language. What is says is that “[r]evenues generated from these taxes will be used to fund drug and alcohol abuse prevention and treatment services.” [my emphasis.] Hmm, why is the brewing industry also funding drug abusers? The argument being advanced to justify all of this is that beer industry is supposed to fund the problems neo-prohibitionists insist they created. Well, I’m pretty sure you can’t pin that on the monkey on your back, that “H” problem or your crack addiction on beer. Even using their own logic, such as it is, that seems incredibly unfair.

This isn’t the first time, even recently, that beer has been tapped to fix budget problems not of their making. For the morally indignant, it apparently fits some weird moral compass to punish an industry they don’t agree with in order to to fix the shortcomings of our politicians. Earlier this year, state congressman Jim Beall proposed raising beer taxes 1400% for “health reasons” and in June the Sacramento Bee weighed in with their own nonsensical proposal, though that time the bogeyman was specifically alcopops.

The idea that beer drinkers should have to pay for our state’s fiscal irresponsibility is so ridiculous that I’m amazed the argument can be made with a straight face. But that’s what many have proposed, in effect, the Sacramento Bee weighed in with their own absurd idea, that goes like this: “Psst! Hey, legislators — looking for some fast cash to ease the budget crisis? Think booze.” The faulty logic, downright incorrect statements and tortured reasoning are in virtually every sentence. It’s as if up really were down in the Bee’s worldview.

The Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watch group [who originally floated this idea], estimates that raising taxes on all alcoholic beverages just 25 cents per drink would raise $3 billion. That’s money the state desperately needs from an industry that has not paid its fair share for a long, long time.

As a colleague of mine put it, “saying the Marin Institute is “an alcohol industry watch group” is like saying the Taliban is a cultural and morality watch group.” The Marin Institute is nothing so grand. They are quite simply a neo-prohibitionist group who wants to return to a time when all alcohol is illegal and they will use any means necessary to achieve that goal. But that aside, saying that taxes should be raised because “the state desperately needs” it is not a valid reason. It may be a result, but what kind of world would we have if every time we needed money, our government looked around for somebody they didn’t like and decided to target them for higher taxes. That’s not a world I’d want to live in. That’s certainly not the high-minded ideals we should be aspiring to.

Where the taxes on any good or product made should be a policy decision based on a variety of factors, none of which should include manufactured hysteria, the agenda of a misinformed and misguided minority, or an opinion based on a lack of truthiness by an apparently biased newspaper.

So no matter how you look at this, it just makes no sense, has no internal logic, and just feel like as an industry we’re being attacked once again. Apart from raising the tax on oil found in California and the sales tax on certain goods that weren’t subject to it in the past — like appliance and furniture repair, automotive repair, amusement parks, sporting events and veterinarians — beer has been singled out for special assessment again. That so many feel that it’s fair to do so, I find remarkable, especially since proponents do not see how they’re using morality to solve political problems. But perhaps they do know full well what they’re doing but just don’t care about fairness. What’s important is their agenda, and the real consequences to those who disagree with them are inconsequential. I sometimes feel like they don’t consider their opponents — you and me — as fully human. Or perhaps they see us as children who need their moral guidance, though meted out with a bludgeon — tough love indeed.

From a purely pragmatic position, placing a burden on a not insignificant part of the state’s economy seems misguided at best. Of California’s $1.6 trillion economy, the beer industry represents $24,646,539,216 or just over 1.5%. In difficult economic times, why would you try to harm such a large percentage of it? For those of us who can look past the moral arguments, it feels a little like shooting oneself in the foot.

The Marin Institute doesn’t see that, of course, and wants to shoot everybody in the foot. They claim “[a]t least 38 other states also face serious budget deficits, totaling more than $60 billion dollars, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. ‘A nickel a drink — It’s the change we need to fix budgets around the nation,’ said Bruce Lee Livingston, executive director of Marin Institute, the California-based alcohol industry watchdog. ‘The largest states, such as New York and Florida can avoid cutting essential programs through long-overdue alcohol tax increases,’ Livingston added. California’s proposal accomplishes exactly that.” Don’t you believe it. The California budget deficit is $11.2 billion. The Governor’s proposal estimates raising only $293 million from the beer industry. That comes nowhere close to “fixing” our budget, and simply unfairly harms an industry already struggling to recover from record increases of crucial ingredients, like hops and malt.

There’s no doubt we need to fix the budget deficit gripping California, and in the many other states where it’s an issue. And let’s not forget the record federal deficit that eight years of Republican neocon rule have run up, the same folks in favor of us returning us to a national prohibition. As of this morning, it was $10,636,486,383,932.04. According to the U.S. National Debt Clock, the “estimated population of the United States is 305,064,289 so each citizen’s share of this debt is $34,866.38. The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $3.99 billion per day since September 28, 2007!” Our economy is obviously in serious jeopardy. But this is a problem that affects us all equally, and any solutions should likewise be distributed evenly among the citizenry. Any other result is simply patently unfair.