HENNIKER — With the state and federal tax burden weighing in at more than $16 per barrel, small breweries are struggling to find a foothold in New Hampshire, but Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said a new bill in the U.S. House could help give local beer producers a fighting chance.
On Thursday, the District 2 congresswoman toured the Henniker Brewing Co. with owner David Currier to promote the bill that would cut the federal excise tax in half, from $7 to $3.50 per barrel. The Small BREW Act would reduce the federal tax burden on the first 60,000 barrels produced by breweries that make less than 6 million barrels per year.
For Currier, that reduction would mean he could put an additional $26,000 back into his business, instead of into government coffers.
"Around 48 percent of the cost of making a barrel of beer goes to taxes," Currier said. "I pay $16.30 a barrel in state and federal tax. It's not cheap to be a beverage maker."
Kuster said that by supporting the state's small breweries through a tax break, the companies could hire more employees, expand their businesses, and draw tourists with a taste for craft beer to New Hampshire.
"I think people like to buy local," Kuster said.
"We have a small bumper sticker we sell that says 'Drink Local,'" said Currier.
Since opening the Henniker Brewing Co. in 2012, Currier has hired five employees to help him brew and market four styles of beer. His flagship brew is Amber Apparition, but he has added Hop Slinger, Whipple's Wheat, and Working Man's Porter to the company's offerings.
David Paquette, the brewery's sales manager, works hard to get bars and restaurants to carry Henniker Brewing Co. beverages. More than 200 establishments and stores carry the brewery's products in New Hampshire. Paquette said much of his job involves talking to potential customers and letting them sample the product.
"In New Hampshire, we will meet everybody who drinks our beer at some point," Paquette said.
Soon the company will begin canning its beer in addition to bottling it in order to tap into another corner of the market: beer drinkers who want to bring some brews to the beach, parks, golf courses or other places that ban glass containers.
"We're missing out on that market," Currier said.
Currier has his sights set on expanding beyond the Granite State in order to take his place in the regional market, but in order to do so, he needs to be able to increase production and bring on more employees. He's hoping that if Kuster's bill, and a companion bill in the Senate pass, he'll have more financial flexibility to expand.
"I'm excited about any bill that helps small business in New Hampshire grow," said Kuster.
She also said that cutting the federal excise tax would spur growth by local breweries that would offset the decrease in tax revenues.