Beer and Taxes
It’s not that often you find a bottle of Mild on the shelf. Mild is a British style of ale that’s notoriously weak – it’s not unusual to find casks of Mild under three percent alcohol. Any beer historian will tell you it hasn’t always been that way, but modern Mild is known primarily as a session beer.
Epic Brewing’s Mid Mountain Mild is a hearty four point eight percent alcohol, but it’s endlessly sessionable. It has a spicy scent, but only ever so spicy, like a sprinkle of cinnamon. That spice really complements the malty sweetness. The malts really shine here, sweet like apple pie, but so light and crisp you want to drink more. The finish is actually a little watery, but that’s sort of the point. It’s cleansing. It’s sad I’ll probably never get to drink it again.
Despite borrowing and tweaking every other English ale, American brewers have never really brewed much Mild. One reason is our infatuation with hops. American brewer’s just love playing with hops and Mild is a malt vehicle. Very light session IPA had a moment there a few summers ago. But that surge seems to be waning, probably due to problem two: price. Few people want to pay craft beer prices for light beer strength.
One reason Mild has stuck on in the UK is that it’s damn cheap. You can get a pint for half the price of fancy craft beers. It’s a function of using less malt and hops than full strength IPA, but it also has to do with tax. In the UK, beer excise taxes are tiered by strength. The tax on weak beer – under 2.8% ABV – is half that of middle strength beer.
In the US, brewers pay a flat tax per barrel, $7 a barrel if they produce fewer than 60,000 barrels a year, and $18 per on any additional barrels. States add on their own bit, which varies wildly. But it doesn’t matter the strength, doesn’t matter the style, the tax is the same. It’s actually strange we ended up with such a simple system. Wine has a similar system to the UK. Depending on alcohol, the tax on a single bottle of wine is between 21 cents to 61 cents.
I don’t want to get into a whole discussion about tax policy, but I think it’s clear that the current rates disincentivize low strength beer. Sessionable beers, I just wish they could come at more sessionable prices. A single bomber of Mid-Mountain is about five bucks, not exorbitant, but enough to keep it out of daily rotation.