Pats Hate Taxes, Too

Looks like local news has caught wind of the beer tax hike. If you don’t want to subject yourself to the cracker-jack reporting team over at WMUR, allow me to summarize. For starters, the $1 per six-pack price increase seems to have been scaled back to a more moderate $0.50 to $0.75 range. The source, again, seems to be Smuttynose Brewery. Aren’t there, like, two dozen other breweries in the state? How did Smuttynose jump out in front on this one? Perhaps this man, identified as John Thompson, has something to do with it.

Oooh! Sour ales!
Oooh! Sour ales!

He claims he was “horrified” when he heard about the proposed tax. Really, John? Horrified? Typically that word is reserved for things like cruelty to animals, genocide, or even Meat Loaf. You know we’re just talking about taxes, right? This reeks of propaganda, which would be appropriate if anyone could confirm that both John Thompson and Smuttynose Minister of Propaganda JT Thompson were, in fact, one and the same person! Let’s see WMUR expose that story!

Of course, in an effort to be both fair and balanced, the other side was interviewed as well. Rep. Weed once again stepped up to the plate to offer his rationale for co-sponsoring the bill.

I drink an occasional beer now and then and I am ready to pay a little more for my beer if its going to put to good use,

Well color me convinced! Not that it matters all that much. Newly elected Governor Maggie Hassan vowed on Wednesday to veto HB 168  if it survived the legislature.

Gov. Maggie Hassan is pledging to veto a bill to raise New Hampshire’s beer tax a dime if it reaches her desk.

Hassan told reporters Wednesday the discussion should be about jobs and the economy and now is not the time to raise the tax, especially with the New England Patriots possibly headed to the Super Bowl.

Oh no she didn’t! She invoked the Pats!? There is no way this bill becomes law. As Governor of New Hampshire, I’m sure Hassan simply saw the word “tax” and reflexively decided to veto. Had she actually read it, she would know that it wouldn’t take effect until July, months after Brady picked up his fourth ring and instantly became the Duke of New England (fyi, duke > governor). I hate politics.

As American as Taxes

It’s incredible how much people hate taxes. I don’t think it is necessarily due to greed. The idea that 99-percenters are trying to horde their money like Gollum does shiny jewelry seems ludicrous (albeit a fun thought exercise). More likely, the folks that hate taxes simply hate government. This is triply true when discussing the great state of New Hampshire. This past week, the craft beer world has been abuzz with the fact that the New Hampshire legislature has proposed a bill to increase the excise tax on beer. Must be a slow news week for the craft beer scene.

We are the 99 percent!
We are the 99 percent!

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Charles Weed (really?) and proposes increasing the tax from 30 cents per gallon to 40 cents per gallon. You can probably get the gist of the debate reading from any one of the many sources reporting on it, but my favorite piece by far is this article from the Portsmouth Herald.

I suppose in an effort to show off his beer cred, the article characterizes Weed as one who “prefers light thirst-quenching beer over heavy craft brews and says he’s made his own beer.” Couple of things: 1) this sentence makes the implicit declaration that craft brews are always heavy. Apparently the Maine Brewing Company has yet to reach Keene B) he’s made his own beer, so it’s OK for him to increase taxes on it; sort of like how you’re allowed to make fun of a particular ethnicity as long as you can claim it in your ancestry iii) I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but he looks like this.

"Intense herbal flavor, with overtones of corn and banana."
“Intense herbal flavor, with overtones of corn and banana.”

Cooler heads will look at this tax and not see too much to scoff at. According to the Chairman of the Governor’s Commission On All Things Alcohol, Tim Rourke (via the Union Leader), the tax “hasn’t been adjusted in the neighborhood of going on 20 years.” Can you imagine if minimum wage hadn’t been increased for 20 years? Nobody wants to go back to the Dark Ages of 1993 where a young industrialist like myself could only make $4.25/hr slaving away at a Hobart in the back of a Howard Johnson’s kitchen. I much prefer the glorious present where instead I can make $7.25/hr. Hooray for Obama!

Additionally, the 10 cent per gallon increase goes directly to the Department of Health and Human Services in order to fund treatment programs for alcohol addiction. This is bad? Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing we want the government to provide? Not according to Peter Egelston. He’s the owner of Smuttynose Brewery and he sounds awesome, like only a cranky grandpa can. From the article.

For starters, he said, the proposal is, “a chickenshit way to raise taxes.”

“I would tell whoever in the Legislature is in support of this the same thing,” he said. “Because when the person who goes into the store and sees the price of beer is up by say, $1 a six pack, it’s never going to occur to them that it’s a tax increase. They’ll curse out the brewers and the procurers and the retailers, but we have nothing to do with it.”

I like how the paper chose to include the quote with the expletive, but decided it was better to censor the offending word. This type of “replace the word” censorship really chaps my ass, but that is a rant for a different day.

I’m not sure what kind of gorilla math Egelston uses, but a $1 increase per six beers smells a lot like bullshit. Let’s do some boring math that the journalist opted to forego. Six twelve-ounce bottles results in a total of 72 ounces (0.5625 gallons). If beer is taxed an extra $0.10 per gallon, a $8.99 sixer of Smuttynose now costs $8.99 + ($0.10 x 0.5625) = $9.05. I don’t think anyone willing to spring for a six-pack of Finestkind is even going to notice.

OK, so maybe Egelston is making up some numbers off the top of his head to better illustrate the point. But wait, there’s more!

Further, the brewery owner predicted, any beer tax increase set by the state would be passed onto beer drinkers two-fold. Egelston explained that’s because a six-pack sold by a producer for $10 is marked up by the distributor by 30 percent, then marked up another 30 percent by the retailer. Neither are going to reduce their profit margins to absorb a new tax, he said.

“The cost of that tax will double by the time it gets to the consumer,” he said. “It hits the consumer twice as hard as a sales tax. Say what you will about a sales tax, but at least you can see it and know what it is. And there are federal and state excise taxes already buried in beer costs.”

Oh, I get it. Egelston is a regressive sales tax advocate. Must be all that time he spent in Massachusetts. According to his bio he is “mainly a Democrat” (though no doubt the dreaded “fiscally conservative” type). Despite the article’s hyperbole, the outrage is not unfounded. The tax increase is only levied on “wholesale distributors”, “beverage manufacturers”, and “brewpubs”. One would think that taxes for programs addressing the treatment and/or prevention of alcohol addiction would be levied against wine and liquor manufacturers as well. But that’s neither here nor there. New Hampshireites are wired a little differently than most other folks and there’s a few things they just won’t stand for: derogatory statements about the Patriots or Red Sox, seatbelt and helmet laws, and taxes. God bless them.

For anyone interested in the actual legislation (HB 168-FN-A), you can find it here.

Chuck’s Hop Shop

He actually sort of looks like this.
He actually sort of looks like this.

I can’t rave about this place enough. The worst part is that I can’t even really proselytize it properly. The conversation typically goes like this.

Somebody: Where’s a good place to get beer around here?

Me: There’s this place by my house called Chuck’s. It’s kind of like a bottle shop, neighborhood bar, and convenience store all rolled into one. It’s the best place I’ve ever been to in my whole life. And I’ve been to Disneyworld.

Somebody: Did you say convenience store? That sounds interest—

Me: They have their own t-shirts. (shows t-shirt which I’m currently wearing)

Needless to say, it can be tricky to convince people unless they experience it for themselves. Chuck himself is a super-friendly Korean beer aficionado who seems genuinely excited to chat about beer whenever the opportunity arises. He knows more about beer distribution than anyone I’ve ever met.

The place itself is kind of industrial-looking. High ceilings with exposed pipes and duct work along with fluorescent lighting don’t exactly project “cozy”. But it doesn’t matter because there’s over a thousand bottles to choose from. That’s not a typo. I tried to capture the essence of Chuck’s inventory with my average intelligence phone.

Here are some bottles.
Here are some bottles.
Here are some more bottles.
Here are some more bottles.
Oh, look! More bottles!
Oh, look! More bottles!

Each one of those sleeves (as we call them in the convenience store biz) is a different beer. And you can crack open any one of those beers and drink it right there in the store. Granted, you have to pay an outrageous $2 “corking” fee for the privilege but it’s typically a non-issue because he’s also got 38 taps. Oh ,did I forget to mention the taps earlier? These are all hand-selected by Chuck himself. He focuses on local (Pacific NW) beers but has an insatiable craving for sour/wild ales that ensures there’s always a couple in rotation.

There’s a different food truck parked out in the parking lot every day if you get hungry. They also serve IPA brats (with a Field Roast option!), ice cream by the scoop, and a dish they call Crappy Chips and Salsa, which requires no further explanation. The kind of folks that tend to stick around for a few pints are mostly ultra locals within walking distance. Since the parking lot can only hold two or three cars, this makes sense. That said, beer geeks from far and wide come to visit Mecca and typically leave with a cardboard box or two filled with hard-to-find beers.

The lot's half full!
The lot’s half full!

I could go on and on about the place so I will. Up by the “bar” (i.e., the back of the place) there is a tabletop video gaming device where you can play Pac-Man, Joust and about a dozen other games, emulator-style. At least I think you can play it. It’s turned on and appears operable, but I couldn’t get it to work last time. Occasionally Chuck will have some kind of theme to the tap list. DIPAs one month, pumpkin beers the next. I think imperial stouts are coming sometime soon. Even more rarely Chuck will have a private tasting of his own personal stock. These are typically pay-to-play affairs where Chuck will display his impressive array of some beer style and crack open a bunch of hard-to-find stuff for the attendees’ enjoyment.

Most recently (as in last week) Chuck’s is finally having a trivia night. It’s only once a month but the first-place team gets two growlers and gift certificates to fill them. Second place gets only one. We came in third and received nothing but the abject despair that can only come from failure. Vengeance will be mine.

Bottom line: if you even have a moderate interest in beer you must go to Chuck’s.