Independent Beer Makers Lobby Congress Over Tax

Small independent brewers and distributors from across the nation are gathering in Washington, in hopes of urging federal lawmakers to repeal an excise tax on beer that dates back to the Civil War.

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The lobbying effort is part of a legislative conference that brings about 1,000 beer industry insiders to Capitol Hill every year.

According to the Beer Institute, a Washington-based research group that co-hosts the event, the excise tax was imposed in August 1862 to support the Union Army, charging brewers one dollar for every barrel of beer sold.

By 1990, the tax had climbed to $9, and was then doubled a year later to $18 for brewers producing more the 2 million barrels a year.

With more than 2,400 breweries in the U.S., federal revenue from the excise tax came to about $2.6 billion last year, on total economic output of roughly $163 billion, industry figures show.

"Beer distributors are all independent businesses, many of which are family owned and passed down from generation to generation," said Michelle Semones, a spokeswoman for the National Beer Wholesalers Association, an industry group based in Alexandria, Va. She said the average beer distributorship has about 40 employees.

"One of our main goals in coming to Washington is to get Congress to act on tax relief," Semones said.

As such, this year's event is emphasizing face-to-face meetings with members of Congress. On top of the beer tax, other issues on the agenda include pressing lawmakers to permanently repeal the estate tax.

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