Small Brewers Triangulate on Capitol Hill

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June 2nd and 3rd were busy days for small brewers and state brewer guild representatives in the halls of Congress, with three separate events focusing on Main Street brewery businesses, craft beer and small brewer issues.

First up was a meeting of the House Small Brewers Caucus, a group of 69 U.S. Representatives bound by a common interest in the small brewing industry and craft beer.  Caucus co-chairs Denny Rehberg (R-Montana) and Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) addressed a standing room only crowd of Congressional staffers and Brewers Association (BA) members, including the BA Board of Directors, on the importance of supporting H.R. 1236, the federal small brewer excise tax legislation.

The Congressmen highlighted the fact that this legislation would allow small brewers to reinvest essential capital in their businesses at a time when small breweries are the only growing segment of the beer industry and lending options from traditional sources remain tight. Additionally, it is projected that 4,400 jobs would be created in the first 18 months following passage of the bill. The message was clear – support small businesses that have the ability to create local, living-wage jobs in communities across America with all the attendant economic benefits that will go right back into local communities.

Following the Congressmen, BA President Charlie Papazian spoke on a topic designed as a lead-in to the next small brewer event, the beer and food pairing-centric Celebration of American Craft Beer.  Charlie packed an amazing amount of information into a ten minute presentation on the ineffable fifth taste, “umami.”  Covering physiology, chemistry and the unquantifiable aspects of umami, Charlie described how foods like mushrooms, seaweed and tomatoes contain the flavor enhancing quality which adds to the overall flavor complexity and enjoyment of food.  Not unlike beer.

As the Caucus meeting wrapped up, Congressmen and small brewers moved right into the BA’s annual spring Congressional beer tasting. A much anticipated event, the Celebration of American Craft Beer draws Members of Congress and 600 to 700 Congressional staffers from both the House and Senate. The two-hour reception featured artisanal cheeses and chocolates and other specialty foods, all to be explored within the context of the flavor diversity of American craft beer.  Twenty-five BA member small brewers from across the country poured 60+ beers in a wide range of styles.  H.R. 1236 prime sponsor Representative Jim Gerlach (R-Pennsylvania) briefly addressed the assembled on the importance of supporting American small brewery businesses through co-sponsorship of that legislation, eliciting a rousing cheer from the room.

On the morning of Friday, June 3rd, small brewers and state brewers guild representatives gathered for a briefing prior to heading up to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress and legislative staff to urge co-sponsorship of both H.R. 1236 and S. 534 and membership in the House Small Brewers Caucus.  In more than 200 individual meetings, over 50 small brewer advocates personally told their elected officials the stories of their breweries and the contributions of small brewers to their communities and states.  They explained current industry dynamics and educated those they met with about the provisions and economic benefits of the excise tax legislation and the value of belonging to the Caucus.

By the end of that day, many commitments of co-sponsorship and active support had been given and no doubt many more will follow in the days and weeks ahead.  Three cheers for America’s small brewers!