Adam Nason at BeerPulse offers more great analysis of the Small BREW Act, including just who benefits from the tax breaks (bigger craft brewers but smaller ones as well—it’s complicated). To understand why everything’s so fraught right now, you need to go back 30-odd years to when the original per-barrel excise-tax break came into congressional being.
The nation’s brewing industry had been trying pretty much since the Second World War to get the federal government to cut taxes on smaller brewers. In the mid-1970s, Henry King, the charismatic head of the now-defunct United States Brewers Association, decided to make one last lobbying stand (Stan Hieronymus has the history of that here). Long story short, the brewers got what they wanted: a tax-cut of more than 20 percent per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels so long as a brewer did not produce more than 2 million annually.
Few did then. Soon, however, the number of American breweries would balloon, deflate, and balloon again, almost entirely in the craft-beer sector. This rise from a handful of small breweries to more than 2,300 is due in no small part to the 1976 tax cut. Would a further cut spur more growth? Is it even needed, given the healthy growth itself?
All part of the debate, which, as Nason notes, might turn out to be entirely moot: “As of Thursday, HR 494 currently has 61 co-sponsors. The website, GovTrack.US, says it has a 5% chance of getting past committee and a 2% chance of being enacted. For perspective, ‘only 11% of House bills made it past committee and only 3% were enacted in 2011–2013.'”