Young and Hungry

House In Session Ale: Changing the Law One Beer at a Time

Last month the beer directors of Pizzeria Paradiso, Meridian Pint, and ChurchKey traveled to Schlafly Beer in St. Louis to brew a special ale for D.C. drinkers to enjoy this spring. The result was the House In Session Ale, a low-alcohol "session" brew. In part one of the story, I describe how the project came about and the experience Paradiso's Greg Jasgur, the Pint's Sam Fitz, and ChurchKey's Greg Engert had in St. Louis.

But there is much more to this collaboration brew than meets the lip. The Saint Louis Brewery, makers of Schlafly Beer, has connections to the District of Columbia that most people do not know. Currently, D.C. is the only market outside a 200-mile radius of St. Louis where Schlafly is available. Part of the reason is that co-founders Tom Schlafly and Dan Kopman have family in the area, and Schalfly himself attended undergraduate and law school at Georgetown. But the brewery also  sends its beer to D.C. for political reasons: Kopman has spent a significant part of the last three years leading an effort by small craft breweries to pass The Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act, or The Small BREW Act, which would recalibrate excise taxes for beer producers.

The release of House In Session Ale coincides with the re-introduction of a series of bills to Congress. Earlier this month bi-partisan duo John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced Senate Bill S 534, backed by eight Republican and nine Democratic co-sponsors. (Apparently beer is one of the few things Democrats and Republicans can agree on.) This week, Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) and Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) will introduce a similar bill to the House of Representatives.

If the bills become law, breweries that currently pay a $7 tax per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels they produce each year would have to pay only $3.50 per barrel, creating tax savings of 50 percent. And for breweries with production in excess of 60,000 barrels per year, the tax would fall from $18 per barrel to $16. Most breweries in the United States (approximately 1,400 of the existing 1,700) produce less than 60,000 barrels per year, so the legislation would free up money for small breweries to expand.

Kopman explains:

The right excise tax structure will encourage more breweries to open and more existing breweries to expand their businesses by investing in new equipment and adding jobs. Small brewers are five percent of the U.S. beer market but 50 percent of the workforce. The more growth for small brewers, the more jobs and the more taxes–federal, state, and local, that are paid by the business and its employees. Excise taxes are specific to beer and the current structure is a disincentive for small breweries to grow.

Kopman has become one of the most active and tireless lobbyists for the interests of small craft brewers in the United States. “He’s gone to the primary craft breweries state by state and said, ‘You need to come with me and talk with your congressman,’” ChurchKey's Engert explains. In 2007, Kopman helped organize the Small Brewers Caucus, a group that has grown to nearly 80 U.S. representatives that gather to learn about the craft beer industry.

In appreciation for his efforts, the Brewers Association, a trade association for small U.S. breweries, awarded Kopman the F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry Award at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco. In response, Kopman asked brewers to follow through if the legislation passes: “Reinvest the tax savings in your people. Put more Americans to work brewing, packaging and selling the best beers in the world.”

For those interested in learning more about House In Session Ale, Schlafly, or The Small BREW Act, Dan Kopman will be at Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town Alexandria Tuesday night for a meet and greet event featuring several Schlafly beers. Unfortunately, House In Session is not cleared for distribution in Virginia, but it is being previewed this week at Meridian Pint, ChurchKey, and at the Dupont and Georgetown Paradiso locations. The three local bars are planning an official launch event on April 7. Also, on Sunday, April 10, Pizzeria Paradiso will be pouring the beer at a brunch featuring all session, low-alcohol brews.

Read more Y&H coverage of House In Session Ale here.

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