Friday, February 12, 2016

HB 248: The AK Legislature Takes Aim at You and Me

Mark Twain famously said: "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." That statement is doubly true these days in Alaska, as the legislature tries to deal with the fact that state government can no longer live off the largess of the oil companies. Now that the party looks to be over, at least until oil prices rebound, our legislators are looking for some other prey to feed on. And guess what? They think anyone who drinks alcohol in Alaska fits the bill.

Alaska after HB 248

HB 248, The Alcohol Tax Bill, proposed by Governor Walker and currently under consideration by the House Labor and Commerce Committee, would double the current excise tax rates on alcoholic beverages in Alaska. Yes, you read that right, double them. Oh, and by the way, Alaska already has some of the highest alcohol taxes of any state, even before this proposed increase. For hard spirits, the current state excise tax is $12.80 per gallon (second highest in the US); the national average is $4.45 per gallon. For wine, the current excise tax is $2.50 per gallon (the highest in the US); the national average is $0.83 per gallon. The current excise tax on beer is $1.07 per gallon (the second highest in the US); the national average is $0.28 per gallon. Under the current tax scheme, the state is already raking in almost $40 million a year in excise taxes, and now the governor wants to double that?

And let's be perfectly clear who's paying that $40 million a year: you are. If you read this blog, I assume it's because you enjoy drinking beers brewed here in Alaska. The producers, distributors, and retailers of beer, wine, and spirits have no choice but to pass this tax, just like any other tax, right along to the end consumers: you and me. So that's who the governor is directly targeting with this tax: you, me, and every other Alaskan who might like a glass of wine with their meal or a nice beer after a hard days work. And I think that is bullshit. We are already paying more than our fair share, with taxes 3 or 4 times the national average, to the tune of $40 million. Federal and state taxes are already the single biggest component in the cost of brewing beer now, to the tune of almost 40% of the price the brewer charges, but Walker thinks it should take even more? I say no! And by the way, I guess I missed his proposal to double the current taxes on oil, fishing, and tourism. After all, if it's okay to just double the excise tax on alcohol, why not just double all taxes?

I'm not saying that the legislature doesn't need to find new sources of revenue; clearly it does, even if the state budget still need about another billion cut out of it (including cuts to sacred cows like education and health care). But the source of this new revenue should be broad-based, like a state-wide sales tax, not targeted at one industry and its consumers, an industry that is already shouldering just about the largest state tax burden out there when compared to the rest of the country.

So if you're like me and think this proposed bill is a complete screw job to folks like us, I urge you to do something about it. HB 248 The Alcohol Tax Bill will have a hearing tomorrow, Saturday, February 13, at 10 AM in front of the House Labor & Commerce Committee. I plan to be at my local Legislative Information Office to give testimony against it, so that's an option. However, even if you can't make it, please contact your representatives in the legislature and let them know you are opposed to this horror show, especially if they happen to be members of that committee. The committee members are:

  • Kurt Olson (District 30)
  • Shelley Hughes (District 11)
  • Jim Colver (District 9)
  • Gabrielle LeDoux (District 15)
  • Cathy Tilton (District 12)
  • Andy Josephson (District 17)
  • Sam Kito (District 33)
You can find the contact information for them or any other legislator at Once again, I urge you to say something to them. The growth of craft brewing in Alaska has been one of the few bright spots in what's been a pretty bleak economic picture lately. The last thing a growing industry needs is to have its taxes doubled.

Let's move on to something more pleasant.

Bearpaw River Brewing in Wasilla will be releasing a new beer at 5 PM today. Since this is the brewery's first collaboration beer, brewed with Occidental Brewing of Portland, Oregon, they will be having a party to celebrate. Check out the Facebook event here. There will be fresh pretzels, baked at the nearby North Star Bakery. Bring your steins and lederhosen to celebrate this new German beer.  Here are stats on the new brew:

Style: Munich Dunkel
ABV: 5.7%
IBU: 19
Malt: Munich, Pale, Chocolate
Hops: Tettnanger, Hallertau
Yeast: German Kolsch

Sounds like another winner!

Anchorage Brewing Company has a new batch of its Triple IPA back on tap today. ABC will also be hosting an event on Saturday, March 26th, for the First Annual Orval Day.  More information on that later.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing
HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks is running  a Valentines Day special this week. $25 get you a glass growler, filled with the beer of your choice, and two nice tulip glasses.

Here on the Peninsula, we are counting down to Frozen River Fest next Saturday, February 20, from 3 to 6 PM. If you are planning to go to the Meet the Brewers Dinner at The Flats Bistro on Friday, you had better purchase you tickets ASAP, as I understand there are less than a dozen still available. Tickets are $50 and get you a five-course meal and seven different beers/wines to accompany them. For the Fest itself, there are no advance ticket sales. It will be $25 at the gate, which gets you a commemorative stainless steel mug and 4 drink tokens, each good for a 4 oz. pour. Additional tokens are only $2 each. Here are some photos of the mug:

Front of mug. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

Back of mug. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

All proceeds from the Frozen River Fest go to benefit the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race. The Peninsula Clarion newspaper also had an article this week about the Fest; you can read it here.

Also here on the Peninsula, the construction on the new home for the Kenai River Brewing Company is proceeding at a rapid pace. I had pictures in last week's blog of the interior. This week, the siding is going on, so check out these exterior shots, courtesy of Kenai River Brewing:

Here's the tap list from KRB as of 2/9:

Note the return of the Frozen River Doppelbock; see my review below.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, there's nothing new on tap yet, but I believe that a new beer will be on tap there soon: H & H All-American Stout. As the name implies, this is another collaboration brew between yours truly and Zach Henry. I'll post more details once it's actually on tap, though some of you may have gotten to taste it at the GABBF. Here's St. Elias' tap list as of yesterday, 2/11.

That's it for news, both good and bad, so let's move on to reviews.

Sierra Nevada's 2015 Bigfoot Barley Wine: This isn't a true review,  as I have written about this classic beer many times in the pass. Rather, I just want to make sure everyone knows that the 2016 release of Bigfoot is now on beer store shelves. That also means that - if you are like me and think that this classic American Barley Wine is best after a year in the cellar - it's time time to start enjoying the bottles of the 2015 release that you laid away last year. Whether you like it fresh or aged, Bigfoot remains a true American classic, so be sure to pick some up.

Kenai River Brewing's 2015 Frozen River Fest Doppelbock: This beer was also initially released a year ago, as part of the celebrations for the 1st Frozen River Fest. You can read my review of it in my 3/27/2015 blog. However, Doug Hogue decided to squirrel some of it away and let it cellar in the cooler for a year. That long cold conditioning has made what was a very good beer even better. If you enjoy big lagers, you really should taste this beer before it's gone. By the way, this year's special Fest beer will be a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale...

Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Sloth Belgian-style Imperial Stout: This beer is a real blast from the past, with its original release from MSBC dating all the way back to 2007, as part of the famous Seven Deadly Sins Series. While I drank it back then, that was a year before I started writing this blog, so I haven't reviewed it here before. It poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. The bourbon barrel aging was very noticeable in the aroma. Mouthfeel was heavy, the way I like it in a big stout, carbonation was low but acceptable. The flavor profile was full of the big, rich notes that you expect in a big imperial stout, along with plenty of bourbon and oak. It's similar to Berserker, but slightly more refined, I think. An excellent, beer, one I'm glad MSBC chose to bring back. 10.2% ABV, 20 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this week. I will be busy with the Frozen River Fest next week, so you probably won't see this blog again for two weeks. I hope to see some of you at that Fest, and please remember to contact your representatives to voice your opposition to HB 248 The Alcohol Tax Bill.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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