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Federal Excise Tax Reform Update: More on Beer and Wine Production Requirements

Back in December, we wrote about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Act”) and the 2018-2019 excise tax reform for the alcoholic beverage industry. The TTB has since issued additional guidance on the changes to federal excise taxes, including more information on the production requirements for beer and wine to be eligible for reduced excise taxes.

Wine: To be eligible for the new wine excise tax credit, the wine must have been produced by the winery claiming the tax credit. The TTB’s guidance states that in addition to fermentation, the following activities constitute “production” for purposes of claiming the new tax credit:

  1. Sweetening (adding sweetening material)
  2. Addition of wine spirits (adding brandy or other authorized wine spirits)
  3. Amelioration (adding water or sugar to adjust acidity)
  4. Production of formula wine (wines with added flavoring or treating materials that require formula approval)

The TTB’s recent guidance also states that activities listed in 24 C.F.R. § 24.278(e) will constitute “production” for the purposes of claiming the new tax credit, but only fermentation and the four activities listed above are specifically listed in the TTB guidance. It is unclear whether the production of sparkling wine constitutes “production” for the purposes of claiming the new tax credit, as that activity is listed in 24 C.F.R. § 24.278(e), but is not listed in the TTB’s recent guidance on this topic.

The activities above must be undertaken “in good faith in the ordinary course of production, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a tax credit.” The entire volume of wine that has undergone one of these production activities would be considered “produced” for purposes of applying the new tax credit. Blending that does not involve one of the operations listed above is not considered production.

It is common practice for wineries to store untaxpaid wine under bond at a bonded wine cellar (“BWC”). Under the “small producer tax credit” in effect prior to 2018, a winery was able to “transfer” its tax credit with the wine to a BWC, and the tax credit could be claimed when the wine was removed from bond at the BWC. Under the excise tax changes in effect for 2018 and 2019, because a BWC has not “produced” the wines by one of the methods above, the BWC may not claim the excise tax credit on wines removed from its bond. The TTB recognizes that wineries may need time to change operations in order to take advantage of the 2018-2019 wine tax credits. Accordingly, Industry Circular 2018-1 sets out an alternate procedure for wineries to claim the excise tax credit on wines stored at a BWC through June 30, 2018. This alternate procedure enables a winery to “receive” its untaxpaid wine back in bond from the BWC, and then “remove” it taxpaid by invoicing it back to the BWC. The process is completed entirely on paper, and does not require a winery to physically receive the wine and re-transport it back to the BWC. This alternate procedure is only available for a limited time, and thus wine producers should review their off-site untaxpaid wine storage and plan to coordinate the documentation to take advantage of the new tax credits while they can.

Beer: There is also a production requirement for beer in order to be eligible for the new reduced tax rates. The recent TTB guidance provides that, in addition to fermentation, the act of “addi[ng] water or other liquids during any stage of production” constitutes “production” for purposes of claiming the reduced tax rates, if the activity is “undertaken in good faith in the ordinary course of production, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a tax credit.” The TTB confirmed that simply bottling or blending beer does not constitute “production.” Further, the TTB confirmed that, like wine, the reduced excise tax for beer cannot be “transferred” with beer transferred in bond. However, unlike wine, there is no alternate procedure for obtaining the reduced tax credit via documentation on beer that has already been transferred to another brewery under bond.

There are still some outstanding questions regarding the excise tax changes on which the TTB has not yet issued guidance, including how the excise tax reform applies to imported products, as well as when two or more producers will be considered to be a controlled group or a single taxpayer. If you have any questions about how the recent excise tax changes may affect your business, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


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