Thursday, March 5, 2009

Updates from River Horse & Boaks Beer

A quick post with some updates (no more tax talk for a change).

We caught up with Glenn Bernabeo from River Horse last weekend at the beer and barbecue festival at WXPN in Philadelphia (a shout out to the Pobutkiewicz brothers, Dave and Russ, for sharing a surplus ticket).

Between pours of RH Belgian Double Wit and a new beer with molasses, Glenn gave us an update on what’s been going on at the Lambertville operation. (Some points he made confirm plans we’ve noted in the past. Also, sorry for the photo quality; iPhones are cool, but a digital SLR camera they are not, especially in low light.)

If you liked RH’s double IPA, Hop-a-lot-amus, it’s coming back around in bottles. Soon. RH released it draft-only back in the fall. Look for the next iteration, with ramped-up hop aroma, to hit the shelves in April (that’s when their Summer Blonde Ale comes out as well).

In early May, RH will release another Brewer’s Reserve, this time a rye hefeweizen, aptly called Hefe-rye-zen (we think that’s how it’s spelled, or something close). RH’s Brewer’s Reserve series has done well for them, notably their first one, Belgian Double Wit, which debuted a year ago and quickly earned a spot in the regular lineup. One of the more recent reserve series beers, an oatmeal milk stout, was quite popular, too; it’s scheduled to come back in October.

Also returning is Dunkel Fester, a big hit of a dark lager that was draft only last year. It’s in bottles in August (a long wait for Fester and the stout's return, but it will be worth it; trust us.) Along the way, you’ll see pumpkin spice in Tripel Horse, Glenn says.

And here’s a cool one, draft-only, but damn, seems like when RH says draft only, things end up available in bottles pretty quickly afterward. Glenn says the brewery is observing Philly Beer Week (it starts this Friday and runs through the 15th) with Dubbel Honey Weizenbock. It's been specially brewed for PBW. You can try it at the Philly Craft Beer Festival at the Cruise Ship Terminal at the Navy Yard this Saturday, or at the Fair Food/White Dog Foundation Brewer’s Plate food-and-beer pairing on Sunday, held this year at the Penn Museum (at U Penn, of course), a popular spot for beer functions, to say the least.

Here’s RH’s tasting notes on the Lenten wheat bock: Munich and caramel malts up front, rounded out by orange blossom honey, clocks in at 7.5% ABV. We're looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, we also caught up with Brian Boak of Boaks Beer/Boak Beverage yesterday.

If you recall, Brian contracted with High Point Brewing in Butler to brew his flagship Russian imperial stout, Monster Mash (10% ABV), and a lineup of Belgian beers. Monster Mash and the Belgian dubbel Two Blind Monks (7.4% ABV) will be at the craft beer fest and the Brewer’s Plate, plus PBW bar events, including the Grey Lodge, on Monday and Tuesday.

To be sure, Brian’s runs a small operation, relying on High Point to work his beers into their brewing schedule wherever they can. That's not necessarily an easy thing, since High Point also does contract brewing for the folks who own the sister restaurants of Trap Rock.

Brian's found a lot of success with his beer in eastern Pennsylvania and expects to be selling his beer in the Pittsburgh area in May or June. Not bad for a guy who has had hand-labeled case after case of bottles and hauled keg after keg to his Pa. distributor in his white Boaks Beverage van.

And there's a change on the horizon for him. By mid-April, a 30-barrel fermenter that Brian had custom-made in China (for about 19 grand) is expected to be installed at High Point. That will give his brews some much-needed dedicated fermenting space. Pretty cool for him, we say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dodging a bullet – for now

A $7 billion hole in the state budget, and some of the suggested ways to fill it for now include higher taxes on liquor and wine.

That’s what The Star-Ledger is saying today in a sourced story that headlines the solutions with another tax hike on people pulling down $250,000 a year or higher. (That was done by McGreevey about 5 or 6 years ago).

But what we care about is beer, and it looks like beer dodged a bullet for now. But bear in mind that these fixes are for the fiscal 2010 budget, which has to be in place on July 1st with spending and revenues evened out.

So, yeah, beer is safe. For now. But the Legislature won't push this through until June, so higher taxes on beer could still get tucked into that. Just have to wait and see.

And speaking of beer and tax revenue, we tried to find out just how much our microbrewers and brewpubs generate for state coffers via fees and taxes. If you recall, we filed inquiries under the state Open Public Records Act. It was a logical approach, and we asked about New Jersey wineries, too, to create a comparison.

However, we only got half an answer from the New Jersey Treasury, and that was for wineries, expressed as gallons produced for each year from 1996 to 2007, and a multiplier of 70 cents per gallon (yes, Treasury was making us do the math). So for example, in 2007 (a big year for Jersey winemakers) 204,290 gallons were made, multiplied by 70 cents per gallon (damn, that’s a steep tax, but as a finance mind we talked to over the weekend says, “Wine sells for more per bottle”). The math comes to $143,000 for '07, and that’s just a state alcoholic beverage tax tied to production. There’s still the sales taxes the wineries collect, which, alas, is a figure we don’t have.

Ditto for beer. Here’s why ...

  • The Division of Taxation has informed this office that they do not differentiate New Jersey microbreweries and brewery/distributors from out-of-state breweries. Therefore, we have no records responsive to your request.
What the state is saying is, they don’t break down entities and revenues paid per entity for their internal reporting, meaning distributor Hunterdon Brewing – and all they beer they sell – gets lumped in with say, River Horse brewery for all the beer they make in Lambertville, which gets lumped in with the next brewer (say Cricket Hill), which gets lumped in with the next wholesaler, and so forth. (The alcoholic beverage tax for beer, according to Treasury, is 12 cents a gallon, or $3.72 a barrel – the 31-gallon unit breweries usually deal in).

Treasury didn’t say they couldn’t tease out the state’s craft brewers and brewpubs to provide a figure. They can and would for a processing fee – and here’s where things stall – of about $3,000, paid by the filer of the OPRA request (to wit, us). And that sum is just a guess on Treasury’s part. And here’s why: No one has ever asked for the information, so all of the computer scripts to capture the data would have to be written and run by the folks working at Treasury, in addition to doing their normal data processing jobs.

So (in Soup Nazi voice), no beer figures for us! However, Treasury did say about 20 million gallons of beer were produced or transacted wholesale in New Jersey in 2007, generating over $2.3 million in alcoholic beverage tax revenue alone. (Most of that figure, undoubtedly, comes via Budweiser in Newark). Again, this doesn’t include sales taxes on beer sold by packaged goods stores, or the mere two sixpacks or growlers breweries can sell per person per visit.

But all is not completely lost. According to figures that Jersey breweries reported to the Brewers Association, the Colorado-based national trade organization for craft brewing, Garden State microbrewers produced 26,376 barrels for 2007. That comes to just over $98,000 in alcoholic beverage tax revenue for the state.

A few caveats, though. Not all craft or pub brewers in the state belong to the Brewers Association (just like not all cranberry producers think the Ocean Spray cooperative is a swinging deal; the brewers have their reasons). Also, the figures from the Brewers Association exclude Pizzeria Uno (as do not publish), because they’re a restaurant corporation that gets kind of batty even if you just want to take a picture of inside their lone US brewpub (in Edison). Additionally, the figures include estimates from the smallest of the small brewers, i.e. companies that produce their beer under contract with other brewers, such as Boak Beverage in Pompton Lakes (20 barrels, by the way, was their estimate).

So, getting the figure from the New Jersey Treasury folks would have been far better, as far as firm, audited numbers go.

Nonetheless, beer means revenue for cash-strapped New Jersey. Of course it’s not going to wash away the red ink and make it so state employees aren’t going to get robbed of 12 days’ pay (furloughs). But Trenton should look at the long-range picture and support the industry, help grow it.

And that, as we’ve been arguing this year, means updating the stifling regulations for brewers, and, like the bullet dodged right now, hopefully skip raising the existing beer taxes.