St. Augustine Distillery was one of more than 150 craft distillers from around the country that gathered in Washington, D.C., July 22 through 24 for the distilled spirits industry’s 10th annual Public Policy Conference, cohosted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the American Craft Spirits Association.
The conference featured a series of legislative and regulatory sessions on key federal and state issues impacting the distilling industry. As part of the conference, St. Augustine Distillery CEO Philip McDaniel, together with owners of Winter Park and Marlin & Barrel Distilleries, and a representative of Bacardi Inc., participated in two days of congressional office and state senate visits. Meetings included Congressional Members John Rutherford, Lois Frankel and Donna Shalala along with staff from eight other members to urge support for the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (H.R. 1175/S. 362). This critical legislation makes permanent a federal excise tax cut on distilled spirits enacted in 2017. Without Congressional approval, the tax cut for distillers will expire Dec. 31.
The group also discussed the harm that retaliatory tariffs on spirits exports are having on American distillers, large and small, and the importance of their distilleries to the economic development of the surrounding community.
“Meeting with the members and their staff was the highlight of the conference,” McDaniel said. “I expressed to them the importance of making the tax cut on distilled spirits permanent. The reduced tax rate has had a major impact on our distillery enabling us to buy new equipment, hire more staff, offer an employee health plan and buy more local agriculture. It was impactful to share with each member how this bill will continue to help our small distillery grow, as well as the devastating impact on our business if it does not pass.”
Conference speakers included Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), cosponsor of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (S.362); Senator Rob Portman (R-OH); Senator Jon Tester (D- MT); Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau officials; and Carl Hulse, New York Times chief Washington correspondent.
“This is a historic moment for our industry as more than 150 distillers from 33 states descend on Washington to rally further support for this critical, urgent legislation,” said Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, American Craft Spirits Association. “Without permanent and immediate Federal Excise Tax reform, the stability of this vibrant industry, and the industries that surround us – agriculture, tourism and the broader hospitality industry – are bound to be paralyzed."
“These distillers delivered a unified message to legislative leaders on Capitol Hill at a critical time,” said Chris Swonger, President and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the national trade association representing producers of distilled spirits sold in the United States. “The federal tax cut on spirits is set to expire at the end of the year and the negative impacts of the retaliatory tariffs against U.S. spirits products are mounting.”
Distillers who attended the conference also had opportunities to showcase their craft spirits at a “Meet America’s Distillers” reception on Capitol Hill for lawmakers and a “Spirits of America” reception for journalists at the National Press Club.