Miller gets brewers' views as co-sponsor of tax cut bill for small breweries

Congressman is co-sponsor of bill to cut taxes for small breweries

jfrank@newsobserver.comJanuary 13, 2012 

— Standing at the bar inside Big Boss Brewery, Congressman Brad Miller asked for a High Roller IPA.

"The things I'm willing to do for my constituents," the suited Raleigh Democrat said as he moved the glass to his lips.

Brewmaster Brad Wynn laughed. The perks of being a congressman.

But as Wynn offered a few more samples, the talk turned to business. And for small craft breweries like Big Boss and the dozen others now thriving in the Triangle, business means taxes.

Miller is a co-sponsor of legislation in the U.S. House, dubbed the Small BREW Act, which would cut the excise taxes small breweries pay from $7 to $3.50 per barrel for their first 60,000.

So Miller's tour of Big Boss and subsequent meet-and-greet with local brewers at Natty Greene's in Raleigh qualifies as, well, research.

Miller already knows a good bit. His staff gave him a beer sampler for Christmas. He also represents Eden, where MillerCoors has a large plant.

"I think it's cool that North Carolina is one of the leading states in craft beer," he said. (The state now has 52 breweries.) The act "would make it easier for them to compete."

He said larger beer manufacturers, such as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, get an advantage with the scale of their operations, and the tax break may help the craft breweries. "There is such a difference in their markets," he said.

Eleven of the 15 members of the state's federal delegation, including Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr, have signed onto the legislation, H.R. 1236 and S. 534, as co-sponsors. U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, Sue Myrick and Virginia Foxx - all Republicans - and Democrat Heath Shuler are the holdouts. Sebastian Wolfrum, a brewer at Natty Greene's, said supporters are close to getting enough lawmaker support to get the legislation moving.

If you ask the brewers, the tax break is a no-brainer: It means jobs and capital expansion. Big Boss - with revenues of $1 million to $2 million - is looking to grow, adding 100-gallon tanks soon to increase capacity and eyeing an expansion east of Interstate 95. "We are wrestling with growth right now and probably could have done a lot more than we did," Wynn said. "$3.50 would be a huge help."

But in the mind of Mark Doble, the owner of Aviator Brewing Co. in Fuquay-Varina, the main obstacle to his bottom line is state excise taxes. Breweries and distributors pay $18.91 per barrel in state taxes, he said, one of the highest rates in the nation. "Because North Carolina can't manage its money doesn't mean we should have to pay," Doble said. "They need to start eating some Ramen noodles."

With the tours and tasting, the congressman clearly enjoyed himself. He called it his ideal day. His favorite beer? "I like beer that tastes like beer," he said, shunning the lighter colored offerings.

But at Big Boss, during a lull in the jobs talk, he tried to expand his horizons.

In the end, Miller said he liked his beer more hoppy than sweet. "I'm glad to hear that from my congressman," Wynn said.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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