A common question I get asked is “How do taxes for breweries work?” Depending on who is asking the question, and whether or not we both have enough beer in hand to discuss the process without getting a headache, I give them one of two answers.
The simple answer is Breweries (and Brewpubs) pay Federal taxes on beer that has been sold. Once money has been exchanged for your beer (either from the consumer directly in your brewpub or tasting room/tavern, or by distribution to a store or bar/restaurant) Uncle Sam wants his cut of the action.
The complicated part of the taxes question is figuring out how much taxes should be paid, when they need to be paid, and the paperwork process involved in making sure everything is reported properly.
But before we go any further…
Disclaimer: Use of any information from this article or any other website referred to in this article is for general information only and does not represent personal or commercial tax advice either expressed or implied. You are encouraged to seek professional tax advice for tax questions and assistance.
Ok, you’ve been warned.
Down the Tax and Operations Reporting Rabbit Hole
If you’ve already been seriously researching how to start a brewery, or if you’re already wading neck deep in the process, no doubt you’ve heard of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB. This agency handles all of the Federal regulatory issues, paperwork, and licensing for breweries.
Federal excise taxes for breweries are closely intertwined with another set of documents called the Brewer’s (or Brewpub) Report of Operations (BROP for short). The BROP reports describe how much beer was made, how it’s being stored (bulk, kegs, bottles/cans), as well as accounting for beer that might have been used for testing, moved from a different location, sent for export, or even destroyed or missing/stolen. Essentially, if you make beer commercially you will need to account for ALL stages of the beer’s life until it’s either drank by a happy customer in your tasting room or shipped out the door for sale.
The Excise Tax form is known as Form 5000.24 and there are two flavors of the BROP; Form 5130.9 and Form 5130.26. These forms and their instructions can be found on the TTB website at http://www.ttb.gov/beer/beer-forms.shtml .
Form 5130.9 is a more elaborate operations form based on the old (pre-2015) standard form for breweries. Larger breweries will need to report using Form 5130.9, although it has been made slightly simpler as you no longer need to report on ingredients used. Form 5130.26 is a simpler form based on the old brewpub version before it was changed in 2015. Smaller breweries and brewpubs can now both use Form 5130.26 for operations reporting.
How much tax you pay, when you pay, the correct forms to use, and when the excise and BROP reports need to be filed all depend on how much beer you plan on making and how much taxes you plan on paying over the whole year.
BROP Reports – Forms 5130.9 and 5130.26
The amount of tax you owed last year and the amount of tax you plan on oweing this year determine which form you should use for your operations reporting.
If your tax liability was more than $50,000 last year or you plan on it being more than $50,000 this year, you need to file your operations report Monthly using Form 5130.9.
If your taxes were less than $50,000 last year, and you do not plan on oweing more than $50,000 this year, you can file your operations reports Quarterly, and you have the choice of using either Form 5130.9 or Form 5130.26.
The due date for all operations reports is the 15th day after the end of the month in which it is due. For example, if you file your reports Monthly you have until the 15th of April to file your March report, and If you file your reports Quarterly you have until October 15 to file your Quarter 3 report (because Q3 ends in September).
The TTB provides a list of the most common BROP reporting problems here. The most common mistakes are from math errors or misinterpreting what is required on the forms. Unfortunately the forms are not intuitive and mistakes are easy to make. When in doubt, ask. Your TTB agent will be able to provide an official answer to your questions.
Excise Tax Returns – Form 5000.24
The standard due dates for filing Form 5000.24 and paying excise tax is twice per month (semi-monthly) except for September, when taxes are due a total of 3 times and these dates vary depending on if you plan on mailing a check or paying by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). More information about September rules can be found here.
If you plan on oweing less than $50,000 for the calendar year, and you paid less than $50,000 the previous year (if you were in business) than you have the option to pay taxes and file your return Quarterly.
If for some reason your brewery bonds become insufficient (bonds are a whole other discussion) or if you become delinquent on tax payments, you will be “asked” to start pre-paying your taxes. You will then need to file an Excise Tax report and prepay tax before any consumption or sale. Additionally, you will also have to file an additional Excise Tax report Semi-monthly that essentially reviews all of the prepaid taxes during that period. Your job as a brewer can quickly turn into an accountant if you are required to make prepayments for tax. Avoid at all costs!
The due dates for the semi-montly and quarterly tax scenarios can be found at http://www.ttb.gov/tax_audit/fed_ex_tax_due.shtml .
The standard tax rate for beer is $18 per barrel. You may qualify for a reduced tax rate of $7 per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels you produce if you plan to produce less than 2 million barrels in that calendar year. After you’ve reached 60,000 barrels the tax rate jumps back to $18 per barrel.
Note that an Excise Tax Return form 5000.24 is due even if no tax is owed!
Staying Organized is the Key
If there’s some advice that I can give to help brewers with their taxes and reporting, the first piece would be to get organized! Brewers are required by the TTB to keep daily records, however, most of the brewers I’ve talked to don’t do enough organization up front with these records before the taxes and reports are due. Because of this, the typical amount of time it takes to prepare these reports correctly is typically a whole 1 or 2 days. Invest in more filing cabinets than you think will be necessary or spend some time brushing up on your spreadsheet skills so that all of the information is at your fingertips. Few things are more frustrating than trying to hunt down a missing brew log under a looming deadline.
The second piece of advice I can offer is to give our product, TTB Tamer, a test drive with a free trial. TTB Tamer is an online tool where all of your brewing operations and brew logs can be stored as they happen, and when a report is due, all you need to do is click print and the correct forms are printed out for you. After that, all that is required is to mail in the form with any payments. This can significantly reduce the amount of time required for generating reports and determining how much tax is due.
In addition to Daily Records, Report of Operations, and Excise Tax forms, TTB Tamer can also help you with state reporting requirements.
More information about TTB Tamer can be found at www.ttbtamer.com.
So, as you can see, tax and reporting requirements are definitely not small parts of the brewery operation. I hope this helps shed some light on what the processes are like.
Founder, TTB Tamer
Note: There have been ongoing efforts to reduce the tax rate for small brewers as well as reduce the bonding and excise tax filing requirements for craft brewers. As of the time of this writing these changes have not yet taken place, but who knows what’s in store for 2017!