The Alcohol Business and Taxes in the U.S.

The more I read and watch about America's tumultuous past with the alcohol business, the more interesting it gets. Granted, taxes or U.S. history are not typically our favorite subjects to casually discuss, but the facts are so incredibly interesting. Here are just a few tidbits:

The Booze Business Used to Fund Much of Our Government
Did you know that, before prohibition, beer, liquor and wine manufacturers funded up to 75% of the federal government?

"...Before the modern personal income tax in 1913, Uncle Sam relied mainly on customs duties and liquor taxation. From 1870 through 1912 receipts from these two taxes alone accounted for more than two-thirds of federal revenues (and in many years accounted for more than 75 percent). Liquor taxes trailed only customs duties as the largest single source of revenue during the half-century preceding the modern income tax, with liquor taxes accounting for about a third of federal revenues. ..." -- Donald J. Boudreaux, economics professor at George Mason University and author of "Alcohol, Prohibition and the Revenuers"

Many speculate that the end of prohibition was brought about at least in part because of the need for revenue. Right as America was headed into the Great Depression, and federal income tax revenues fell drastically, the repeal movement gained swift political traction.

Mr. Boudreaux also writes: "... And sure enough, Prohibition’s repeal did indeed generate higher liquor-tax revenues. As a percentage of federal government revenues, liquor taxes jumped from 2 percent in 1933 to 9 percent in 1934 to 13 percent in 1936. Repeal did not fully compensate for lost income-tax revenues, nevertheless it promised a sizeable stream of additional revenue. ..."


The 1980's - Taxes, The Price of Alcohol and Its Effect on Consumption
Alcohol consumption decreased in the 1980s, particularly due to additional taxes that made it more expensive to purchase.

Clark Smith wrote in a December 2011 Wines & Vines article: "... When the federal wine tax per gallon soared in 1984 from 17 cents to $1.07, gallon jug prices tripled overnight from $2 to $7. The big bottles immediately disappeared from shelves as consumer shifted en masse to 750ml bottles. .."

He also went on to explain that consumers made up for it by purchasing higher alcohol bottles, thus helping to give traction to the trend of bigger, extracted, high alcohol wines produced widely in the 90s and still produced today.

Although this is only one factor that contributed to the movement toward higher alcohol wines, it was one I hadn't particularly pondered before.

Alcohol taxes were also increased under Clinton, as part of a budget balancing effort, and in the past few years several attempts have been made at increasing tax on alcohol, but were rejected. With the economy as bad as it has been, it was hard to contemplate paying extra while businesses were struggling to survive. "Sin taxes," as they're commonly called, are a popular idea to increase revenue, so I'm sure we'll see additional attempts in the future.

A great documentary was recently made on Prohibition. Highly recommended:

What Wineries Currently Pay to the Government
As it currently stands, a large winery pays a per gallon excise tax to the federal government. If the winery produces under 100,000 gallons per year, it can receive a small producers tax credit of 90 cents per gallon. This is for the "privilege" of being able to be in the alcohol business. The tax rate also increases if you produce wines over 14% alcohol.

$1.07 per gallon for wine 14% alcohol or less,
$1.57 per gallon for wine 14.1% to 21% alcohol,
$3.40 per gallon for sparkling wine.

Sales tax is also paid per bottle of wine sold, to the amount that the local county has set (Mendocino County will be 7.375% in April 2012).

Use Tax is paid to the government for everything we pour in the tasting room, serve at events, or generally use or sample but don't sell. This is the amount we pay for all the packaging used to make that bottle of wine (corks, capsules, glass, labels, etc.). Amounts to a few bucks a bottle.

An annual fee is paid to the ABC to renew our license (or that state's alcohol bureau).

And I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting. It adds up to a lot of paperwork, let me tell you!

When the federal wine tax per gallon soared in 1984 from 17 cents to $1.07, gallon jug prices tripled overnight from $2 to $6. The big bottles i

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