Monday, February 16, 2009

Aiming at the Wrong Target, and Hopefully Missing

The Oregon legislature is being lobbed (lobbied) a bill to increase the beer tax. And not by just a little bit. It would certainly put us out of business should it pass. I'm not much of a letter writer, but this one is important enough. I have already sent off paper mail to my state senator and representative containing the following:

Ted Sobel
Publican, Brewer
Brewers Union Local 180
48329 E. 1st St.
PO Box 739
Oakridge, OR 97463


Proposed Beer Tax Increase

Dear [Senator/Representative]:

Permit me to introduce myself. I am the owner, publican and brewer of Oregon’s only real ale public house and brewery, the Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge. By real ale, I mean genuine cask-conditioned ale, as brewed in England, particularly utilizing the techniques practiced in the Lake District. I have been in business in the Uptown area of Oakridge now for six months, providing a safe comfortable meeting place for locals and visitors alike, with great home-cooked food and authentic ales. We are excited about the changes taking place here, with the growth of the mountain biking community and the wonderful outdoor recreational opportunities.

This project has the fulfillment of a dream of mine. I fell in love with the British pub and real ale on a trip to the UK back in 1991 before I moved to Oregon, and have wanted to start my own brewery and pub since a walking trip to Cumbria in 2006. After purchasing a building with a business partner in ’07, we spent 10 months completely gutting and rebuilding in the style of a British pub. With all the hard work we have put into this, and despite a rough economy and being in a small town, we are starting to experience a small amount of growth and recognition.

You can probably guess by now that my reason for writing is a concern over the proposed increase in the beer tax. Indeed, increase seems like too weak a word to employ in this context; perhaps I should suggest the egregious increase in taxation on beer. I might be able to understand a small, fair increase, such as $5/BBL, as long as it is fairly employed across the so-called sin-sector, i.e. apply the increases to wine and liquor as well. But, singling out beer, and making an order-of-magnitude increase, is blatantly unfair. The craft beer industry is one of the leading Oregon industries, and is in fact one of the many reasons people visit Oregon – to sample the richness and variety of our brewing culture.

I have put everything I own into this business, including taking out personal loans and putting a second mortgage on my house. I work seven days a week doing something I love. I employ seven people, paying a higher than typical wage, in a town that has struggled to rebuild itself after the demise of the logging industry. I do not serve minors. I do not indulge in, promote or encourage over-consumption. If this bill passes, those responsible for its signing into law will be, in fact, shutting us down. I cannot weather charging my customers at least another dollar per pint, and as such would have to let my employees go, shut my doors, and attempt to sell my house and business property in a stagnant economy.

I sincerely ask you to consider the impact that this bill would have on Oregon brewery businesses; the mom-and-pops; the little guys. We are already suffering from the consequences of the irresponsible. This bill is not a solution. The responsible local pubs and breweries are not the factors that promote and encourage the types of abuses that the bill attempts to remediate. Cheap, sugary alcopops at the local supermarket, purchased by “big brother”, and negligent bar owners who don’t care how they make a buck, have much more to answer for. I have been following a similar story in the UK with the out of proportion increases in duty on ale in the small community pubs, and watching them close at an alarming rate, while supermarkets play the loss leader with fizzy, sugar-laden nirvana. This bill must not pass in its current instantiation.

Thanks for listening. And please stop by for a pint sometime.


Ted Sobel


Unknown said...

Oh my goodness me. And I thought your legislators had got some stuff right. They'll be suggesting allowing tied houses as a solution next.

Buy me a plane ticket and I'll come over and sort them out.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Oh, forgot to put in the link to the bill:

In summary, it's a 1900% increase in beer tax. Silly, ain't it?

And I'm the one that wants the plane ticket, Dave, to come sort out your MP's.

sabiancrash said...

I fully stand behind your letter and watch with anticipation in the hope that your representatives and representatives elsewhere in the States see the folly in such a broad and crippling legislation. Best of luck to you and to the other Oregon craftbrewers! Stand strong!

Unknown said...

" imperative to protecting Oregon's citizens"

From yourselves? From each other? Even in the Corner Bar and Grill the most damaging thing I witnessed was Karaoke.

Speaking of which, how are they coping with the smoking ban?

(Word verification; "flomp" is it context sensitive?)

Dave A said...

Well written letter Ted. This tax if it is allowed to go through is insane!! The state needs money so it focuses on one industry, no, one aspect of a industry to get it's wealth. Good grief! I am amazed at government stupidity.

Unknown said...

Well said Ted! Perhaps we should get a petition going to tax the legislators with a dope slap every time they do something stupid.

Sean said...

Wow Ted. I found out about your pub in Beer Advocate. I'm all the way across the country in New Hampshire but I wish there was something I could do.

I meant to email you before to pick your brain about opening the real ale pub, as it is a dream of mine also! It would truly be a shame if this bill passed.

If there is anything I can do please let me know. I doubt a letter from someone who doesn't live in Oregon would help, but I will write one is you think it will!

Best wishes,

Sean Clements

Christi said...

I'm happy to form a posse. Show them a thing or two, if they try to tax my big brother inappropriately. Grrrr.

Jay said...

"The craft beer industry is one of the leading Oregon industries, and is in fact one of the many reasons people visit Oregon – to sample the richness and variety of our brewing culture."

Beer is *the* reason I visited Oregon a few years back - flew all the way from Philadelphia to do so.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Wow. Bless you.

You might've noticed the occasional mountain, tree or waterfall while here. And I hear the Coast ain't too bad.