If theres one thing Rep. Peter DeFazio loves, its a good, cold beer. But the Oregon Democrat is not interested in those watered-down 30-packs that you see on the shelves of the local grocery store. He prefers either to brew his own or pick up one of the thousands of craft beers produced by brewers across the country.
Ive been a home brewer for over 15 or 20 years, and we have Oregon has the largest number of craft breweries in the United States, so its actually a fairly dignified business activity in our state, he says.
Recognizing the challenges that small breweries face commodities prices, excise taxes and Prohibition-era labeling laws, to name a few DeFazio was inspired to create the House Small Brewers Caucus. The caucus first met in 2007 and was co-chaired by DeFazio and fellow Oregon Rep. Greg Walden (R).
We started thinking maybe we ought to have more of a focus so we have a group to go to when these issues come up, DeFazio says.
The United States is home to more than 1,500 small breweries, which employ more than 100,000 people and create $3 billion annually in wages and benefits. In fact, the craft beer industry is one of the few that continues to grow even during these tough economic times.
There are not many other industries that can make that same claim, says Bob Pease, chief operating officer of the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo.- based group that represents small brewers across the nation. We are growing. We are the fastest-growing segment of the beer world.
Today, the Small Brewers Caucus has 67 members from both sides of the aisle and is co-chaired by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).
Beer is a very bipartisan thing, DeFazio says.
The group meets twice a year, inviting small brewers to give presentations on issues that they are facing on a daily basis. Most recently the group has been working to shepherd a bill through Congress that would reduce the excise tax on craft beers. Small brewers pay $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels that they brew. The proposed legislation would reduce that tax to $3.50.
Im always skeptical when people talk about a beer tax in Washington, D.C. because theres no such thing, Rehberg said in a statement. Beer doesnt pay tax. What theyre talking about is a tax on small businesses that make beer. And small businesses are the heart of our economy and the engine that will pull us out of this recession.
In April, Renee and Matt Greff, owners of the Arbor Brewing Co. in Michigan, went before the caucus to discuss what they would do with the money that they would save if the excise tax were reduced.
We would use part of it for making energy improvements, Renee Greff said. We actually had an energy audit done, so we have a wish list.
The Greffs would switch to LED lighting in the brewery and upgrade their heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system. If the bill passes, the brewery would save about $13,000 a year.
Caucus meetings arent always focused on legislation: In December, Greg Engert, beer director at ChurchKey and Birch & Barley, spoke to the group about the interaction between breweries and restaurants. He discussed different ways of serving and storing beer in a restaurant.
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