Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beer Taxes: February 2009

Jeff Alworth at Beervana has posted a very useful table delineating the beer taxes that wholesalers pay in all 50 states. He breaks down the figures into meaningful comparisons.

Let's look at the state of Georgia, where the beer tax rate is relatively high.

When a brewery or importer ships its beer to a wholesaler in Georgia, that beer is taxed at $0.48 per gallon ($14.88 per barrel). The brewery or importer usually picks up that add-on.

Once the beer moves from the wholesaler's warehouse throughout the state, an additional $0.53 per gallon ($16.43 per barrel) is tacked on. That usually is paid by the wholesaler. That's $1.01 per gallon (or $31.31 per barrel) of beer.

Many breweries and wholesalers assume some of this tax, but some pass it all along in the price they charge stores and pubs.

Then, when the consumer buys the beer, he/she pays an additional state SALES tax at the counter.

But these figures do NOT express the original excise tax that a brewery pays when it produces its beer. It's a tax on beer sitting in a brewery, even before the beer is sold.

The Federal rate is currently at $0.23 per gallon or $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels for any brewery that produces less than 2 million barrels. The 'big-boy' rate is otherwise $18 per barrel. Breweries then pay an additional state excise tax: a tax added to the beer in the state in which the beer is brewed.

The currently proposed national BEER act (H.R. 836, the Brewers Excise and Economic Relief) would reduce the Federal 'big boy' marginal rate to $9 per barrel ($0.29/gallon) and the small brewer (marginal rate on fewer than 60,00 barrels) to $3.50 per barrel ($0.11).

It seems contradictory that the Federal government would be reducing taxes and increasing spending while states are doing the opposite. Of course, the Federal government is not constitutionally bound by spending or debt limits, and can print money. States are forbidden by the US constitution from printing money, and often have debt limits in their constitutions. And even when they don't, their credit ratings can be adversely affected by carrying large debt loads, and thus find themselves unable to borrow money.

In analyzing the numbers, Alworth discovered a very interesting non-causal relationship:

It appears that there's no correlation between tax rates and per-capita consumption. (I didn't run the numbers, but did apply a few minutes of "visual inspection"--that's high-level statspeak for "eyeballing it.") States vary quite a bit by consumption, from a low in Utah of 13.4 to a high in North Dakota of 32.4. But when you sort them by the beer tax, they all average out, more or less.

Beer taxes, cigarette taxes, etc. are often referred to as 'sin taxes', that is they raise revenue and promote a perceived moral good. But therein lies an inherent contradiction. If a perceived moral good is gained --that is, less drinking or whatever-- the tax revenues will decrease.

I have a bit more on excise taxes here at my blog.


  1. The annoying thing about that 1991 beer tax increase is that it came in with a number of other taxes deemed "luxury taxes" -- on things like yachts, private airplanes, luxury cars, second homes. ALL of the other taxes were quietly repealed afterwards, but the beer tax stays in place.

  2. As someone who has worked from the packing line in a Large brewery and a head brewer in a Small Brewery I can tell you that if they increase the excise at the state level large breweries will have to either lay people off or start to employ them part time and the small breweries will just go out of bussiness .


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