Danbury-area brewers say Lamont's beer tax break likely to keep prices stable, encourage new jobs

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DANBURY — A 17 percent drop in the tax Connecticut slaps on every barrel of beer brewed here will help keep the price of a pint stable and may lead to new taproom jobs, local brewers said.

“The cost of everything is going up — from cans and corrugated cardboard for our cartons to grains and hops — so it’s nice to see something’s going down,” said Scott Vallely, owner of Charter Oak Brewing in downtown Danbury. “Every penny helps because we’re an industry of pennies that operates on a very small margin.”

Small margin or not, Charter Oak and brewers across Connecticut were responsible for $2.9 billion in economic output that includes the employment of nearly 18,000 people in agriculture, manufacturing and retail, according to data cited by Gov. Ned Lamont’s office.

“Connecticut’s craft brewery industry has been booming in recent years,” Lamont said in a release announcing a 16.7 percent cut in the state’s excise tax on beermaking, starting in 2023. “We should be doing everything we can to support locally owned, small businesses, including craft breweries.”

Danbury-area brewers said they intended to reinvest the money they will save.

“We’ll use it to reinvest in employment and to absorb the cost of increases in our supplies to keep the price of a pint and four-pack from rising,” said Rick Cipriani, a New York brewer whose plans to open Quirk Works Brewery and Blendery in downtown Danbury were approved in May. “This will have a trickle-down effect that helps Connecticut farmers and malt growers.”

A Ridgefield brewer agrees.

“We want to try to maintain our price structure, without have to raise prices, but we have seen our costs increase on canning and hops,” said Robert Kaye, owner of Nod Hill Brewery, who is completing a recently approved beer garden. “So this is fantastic.”

Lamont’s decision to cut the tax on a 31-gallon barrel of beer brewed in Connecticut from $7.20 to $6 is part of a series of reforms to help brewers grow their businesses. Since 2019, Lamont has quadrupled the amount of beer breweries can sell to an adult for off-premise drinking from one case to four cases, and has streamlined the permitting process so that brewers “can also make wine, cider, spirits, and mead all under one roof.”

The reforms are working, one Newtown brewer said.

“(Lamont) has been very progressive about the craft beer industry, and he understands the value the craft beer industry has to the state,” said Dave Kingsley, co-owner of NewSylum Brewery Co. in Newtown’s Fairfield Hills campus, who is completing a recently approved beer pavilion. “I’m always for paying less in taxes.”

The effect of the excise tax cut remains to be seen, as Connecticut tries to keep up with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other brewer-friendly states.

Danbury’s Vallely said Connecticut has become a hot spot for craft brewing.

When Vallely opened Charter Oaks in 2012, he was the 10th brewer in the state. Today, Connecticut has 120 breweries.

“Connecticut is making some really good beer now — you don’t have to go to Vermont or Washington or Oregon for good beer anymore,” Vallely said. “The way I look at it, there is plenty of room for more growth, because if the water goes up, all of the boats are going to rise.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342