It is that time of year again. No, not just the time for winter beer festivals, but time for the New Mexico State Legislature to get together and hash out all the bills and budget for 2017. Keeping a close eye on the proceedings, once again, is the New Mexico Brewers Guild.
Guild director John Gozigian and I sat down late last week at Bosque to discuss what the Guild will be facing during this 60-day session that begins January 18.
“I’ll be interested to see how it plays out,” John said. “We’re not running any bills this year (or in 2016). We’ve gotten a lot of the things that we needed to be competitive as an industry. There’s nothing pressing we need to work on.”
It will be more of a wait-and-see approach for the Guild.
“Actually, we’re going to be in a bit of a defensive mode now due to the specter of the increased excise tax being on the table,” John said. “We’ve had that 25-cent drink tax, that’s come up. I haven’t heard yet that they have introduced the bill. I don’t think they have yet, but it could pop up at any time during the 60-day session.”
One strategy for the neo-prohibitionist faction could be to sneak their legislation into a larger combined bill near the end of the session.
“Some of the legislators like (Michael) Sanchez, who’s no longer there, they famously kind of throw these into omnibus bills at the end, kind of take you by surprise,” John said.
So far, though, the idea of an excise tax increase has not met with much of a positive reception, even at lower levels of government.
“The 25-cent drink tax proposal didn’t make it through the Santa Fe County Commission as a non-binding resolution,” John said. “If it couldn’t make it through there, it’s going to be tough to make it through the legislature. I don’t know if they’re going to try it or not.”
New Mexico is in dire straits financially, which can often lead to short-term solutions with harmful long-term effects. It does not seem, though, like higher taxes on local breweries, wineries, and distilleries is the answer.
“People will say our excise tax hasn’t increased in 20 years or so, but it’s still double the rest of the nation,” John said. “That’s really going to be our focus going in.”
The Guild will have three meet-and-greet functions in January. First up will be one with new House Speaker Brian Egolf and Northern New Mexico legislators at Milton’s Brewing in Carlsbad on Jan. 5.
The next two meet-and-greets will take place at La Cumbre on Jan. 11 and at Rio Chama Steakhouse in Santa Fe on Jan. 31.
“It’s just part of the education, talking about what we do, how many people we employ, how much revenue we keep in the state by out-competing our out-of-state competitors for market share,” John said. “Just making the case in general that this is an economic boon for New Mexico and that it would really be counter-intuitive to do anything that slowed the growth and traction that our craft breweries have.”
In their weekly email, the Guild did take note of four separate bills for members to monitor: HB27 (Minimum Wage), SB36 (Minimum Wage), HB51 (Retail Craft Liquor Reciprocity), and SB37 (Liquor License for Distilled NM Spirits). Anyone wishing to look up all the details can click here, but that would involve a lot of legal-ese, so we will do our best to sum up each of these.
The first two are obviously aimed at raising the minimum wage, which would impact a number of brewery employees and potentially the bottom line of the breweries.
HB51 could be an interesting one. Right now, New Mexico craft distilleries cannot sell their products at restaurants and bars that do not have a full liquor license. This bill would allow local governments (cities/towns and counties) to vote to allow local establishments to serve distilled spirits made in New Mexico. That could greatly benefit places like Broken Trail and Left Turn.
SB37 would, in turn, allow craft breweries and wineries in New Mexico to sell locally made spirits under a reciprocity law similar to what already exists between the breweries and wineries. Basically, this could enable a major brewery to carry wine, cider, and liquor, so long as those spirits were made in New Mexico. In turn, the distilleries could offer up beer and wine from their counterparts.
The other Stout Challenge returns
The Guild will again be hosting their version of a Stout Challenge at Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op in Los Alamos. The event will feature a tray of 15 different stout samples, with folks able to vote on their favorite, which will earn them a full pint. It will take place Saturday, Feb. 18, from noon to 6 p.m. Stay tuned for more information and a list of the entries.
As for us, the Crew will have our sixth annual Stout Challenge on Super Bowl Sunday, featuring every house stout from around the ABQ metro area. Bosque, Boxing Bear (2015 winner), Canteen, Chama River (2016 winner), Cazuela’s, La Cumbre (2013 winner), Marble (2012 winner), Rio Bravo, Tractor (2014 winner), and Turtle Mountain should all participate. The eligibility of other breweries will be determined by whether or not they have a stout available at the time, as most do not have a regularly available stout.
Still time to vote in our beer polls
Voting is still open in each of our year-end beer polls this week. Voting will close for each set on a different day. Today will mark the final day for the first four polls, where there is currently a tie between La Cumbre’s BEER and Boxing Bear’s Body Czech in the Best Pilsner/Lager category.
The second set of five polls will see the voting close Tuesday. The closest category is Best Packaged Seasonal, with hopheads battling it out over Bosque’s Scale Tipper and La Cumbre’s Project Dank.
The final set of polls, which has seen a truly tremendous response (800-plus votes cast in most of them), will close Thursday, after which we will reveal the winners and how the Crew voted. Quarter Celtic has stormed out to the lead in Best Food, Best Staff, Best Atmosphere, and Best Brewmaster/Head Brewer, while Bosque is clinging to the lead for Best Brewery Overall.
If you have not already, get in there and vote!