Story last updated at 5/21/2014 - 5:45 pm
In an interesting chain of events, I recently enjoyed a 30-minute telephone call with Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She called me from Washington D.C. in March. I really have Matthew Felling, Murkowski's communication director, to thank for this.
Some may know Felling better as the former anchor and lead political reporter for Anchorage's KTVA Channel 11 News. I didn't have any idea, but he's quite the fan of mine. Somewhere along the line, he got the idea that I wasn't aware of Senator Lisa Murkowski's love of the Alaska craft brewing industry. Sadly enough, he was right.
The root of my ignorance isn't apathy, but rather my steadfast writing objective. When I sat down to pen the very first beer column I wrote (going on 18 years ago), I thought back to what I'd learned about writing in school. I remembered that every piece had to have an objective. A good writer always asks, "What do I want the reader to come away with when they read this?"
The answer I came up with was "to be thirsty for good beer."
Writing about beer politics doesn't do that. I might just break my unwavering rule today.
Unbeknownst to me, Felling enjoyed my beer column and continues to read it online from afar. Somewhere along the line, he got the idea that Murkowski and I needed to connect.
Murkowski was born in Ketchikan, but she doesn't just visit that community when she comes back to Alaska. On a trip to Kodiak, she traveled to Kodiak Island Brewing Company where she found great interest in the impact that a small brewing operation can have on a community both from a social standpoint and as an economic engine.
As the executive director of the Brewer's Guild of Alaska, which oversees our state's whopping 23 breweries (with seven more in planning), I am well aware of what our craft beer industry contributes to Alaska.
Murkowski undeniably has a lot more clout and political influence than I do, and I'm excited that she's on craft brewing's side. Murkowski works to promote, protect and enhance Alaska's craft breweries as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Brewer's Caucus.
The Caucus "is dedicated to educating Members of Congress and their staff about legislation, regulations, and other unique issues faced by small American breweries."
Murkowski told me, "the Small Brewer's Caucus is one of the many in the U.S. Senate, but this is one that I think feels good. When you're doing something to help your small businesses around your state it feels good."
She's also a supporter of the Small Brew Act, which seeks to reduce the federal beer excise tax for our nation's smallest brewers. Under current federal law, brewers making less than 2 million barrels of beer pay $7 a barrel in taxes on the first 60,000 barrels of beer they produce and $18 a barrel for anything over that. The Act seeks to reduce the tax to $3.50 a barrel on the first 60,000 barrels, then to $16 a barrel for amounts between 60,001 and 2 million barrels. For any amounts above that, the rate would be the current, full $18 per barrel.
"What we're trying to do is really help to reduce the taxes ... by cutting taxes on the first 60,000 barrels in half, it clears the way for more small brewers to expand, hire more folks and it just allows them to really engage in a business that want to be involved in." she explained.
One of the things Murkowski is doing is attempting to visit all of our craft breweries in the state during her travels. "I have a map of the breweries in the state and I'm trying to get in and talk to these folks. I want to ask them what's impacting you and your operations? What can we be doing better? It's about giving these folks encouragement. It's a point of community pride," she says.
Murkowski was particularly enamored of the HooDoo Brewing Company in Fairbanks. Hoo Doo's the creation of brewer/owner Bobby Wilken. It opened in November 2012 and has been amazingly successful since then.
"When I was at HooDoo talking to Bobby Wilken and how he got into it, he talks about his desire to be a businessmen but that he also wants to have a family life. He's got kids. There's a tricycle there in the brewery. It says a lot. He wanted the quality of life where it's not all about making the big bucks; it's also about what's going on in your community and a desire to be where you want to be making a living and supporting your family," Murkowski said.
I'm proud that she feels that craft beer here is as deserving of the Made in Alaska logo as any other locally produced product, if not more so.
"We have our brewpubs and little breweries are giving us identity and local pride aspects to their communities. I think it's great to build community or regional pride in something that's truly Alaska grown," Murkowski said.
I don't know about you, but as a craft beer lover and a staunch supporter of our small craft brewing operations and their presence within and contribution to their local communities, I know I have a friend in Lisa. She gets my vote.