Brew More Pay Less: A six pack of tax tips for breweries

By: Brandon Scripps, Senior Audit Manager, Sensiba San Filippo.

Lavender, bacon, maple syrup, chipotle. A decade ago the only thing these flavors would have in common is a row in a jelly bean box. Today, the combination of innovative flavors and unique business character has led to the success of the ever-growing craft beer industry.

With creative, and often obscure, flavor profiles flooding the market, beer consumers are rejoiced by the plethora of options at the taps and down liquor store aisles. In fact, nearly 65% of beer lovers say that they prefer craft breweries due to the volume of variety. Where there used to be only several major beer companies monopolizing the market, there are now 5005 breweries in the US, 99% of which are small, independent craft breweries.

With an ever-growing demand for more and more unique varieties, it’s no mystery why breweries are popping up all over the nation. Whether established or just getting off the ground, it’s important for brewers to know what options there are in terms of tax benefits. Like any business, producing and retaining enough of your profit is critical to sustainability, and beer is no different. Here is a list of tax tips that will help you maximize your wealth and keep those taps flowing.

Domestic Production Activities

Deduction (DPAD)

Since brewing is the process of transforming raw ingredients into a final product, breweries are inherently considered manufacturers. The Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD) is a deduction available to U.S. manufacturers and can amount to as much as 9% of net Qualified Production Activities Income (QPAI). To be eligible, the brewery must pay W-2 wages and must be producing a profit. The deduction applies only to manufactured products at the brewery, and therefore resale and merchandise sales do not qualify. To avoid later complication and questions from the IRS, a well-organized accounting system is recommended to distinctly separate qualified DPAD related expenses and revenue from non-manufactured activities.


Think that research and development only happens at tech companies? Think again. Breweries are constantly innovating the brewing process, developing new or improved product formulas and testing out new procedures — all of which are qualifying R&D activities. The tax credit can be applied to expenses associated with any R&D activities, including wages, supplies and services used during the process. The qualification process is tricky and requires a four part eligibility test. For this reason, it’s recommended that you have extremely organized and accurate documentation on the costs associated with the R&D activities. Qualifying activities include anything developed or improved, such as bottling processes, preservative chemicals, filtration methods, flavor or aroma profiles, or other advances in methodology or procedure.

To make things better, congress recently passed new legislation that enables small businesses to apply their R&D credit to offset payroll taxes. Like many start-ups, breweries often struggle to make and sustain a profit their first few years in business. While not profitable, the odds are they still have payroll to maintain. This legislation allows small businesses and breweries to put those R&D credits toward those payroll taxes rather than income taxes to realize an immediate cash benefit.

Charitable Donations

While charitable giving is a great way to boost employee morale and help others along the way, it’s also an exceptional way to save some cash throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, charitable giving can mean donating physical items rather than just straight cash. Like other businesses that have an inventory supply, breweries often have an excess of inventory or out of season beer throughout the year. Let’s say your brewery makes a delightful winter ale, but come springtime, consumers no longer crave those comforting notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. By donating this excess beer to a qualified charitable non-profit for a fundraising event, you could receive a tax deduction directly correlating to its market value. The beer must of course be in consumable condition, and must be donated to a registered 501(c)(3) to qualify. Be sure to keep documentation of the donation as well as a signed form from the charity to receive the tax benefit.

FICA Tip Credit

For brewpubs, customer tips are a critical part of employee compensation. The FICA tip credit gives brewpubs the chance to claim a credit on their federal taxes, including social security and Medicare. Note that this credit is only applicable to tips that put the employee in excess of the national minimum wage ($5.15 per hour). Employers are responsible for 7.65% of FICA payroll taxes, making this credit a huge asset when properly utilized. A simple year-end payroll report will showcase all of the necessary information to qualify for this credit.

Section 179 Deduction and

Bonus Depreciation

Having good equipment is an essential part of a successful brewery. Section 179 of the IRS tax code gives businesses the opportunity to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment and software purchased or financed during the tax year. In an effort to encourage business growth and investing, this deduction is one of the few that really helps small businesses grow their operation. While businesses used to write off a portion of the purchase each year as a part of depreciation, this deduction allows businesses to write off the entire purchase price for the year they buy it (up to $500,000 in 2016). This covers everything from software, corporate vehicles and machinery.

Bonus depreciation is also a great way to quickly recover the cost of capital assets. Essentially, bonus depreciation allows breweries to purchase equipment (thus pumping up the economy) and expense a portion of the asset immediately in return. Bonus depreciation allows for an immediate deduction of up to 50% of the cost of the assets, above and beyond the Section 179 deduction claimed. As part of the extension, the amount available for immediate deduction will be 50% in 2016 and 2017, 40% in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019. It’s important to note that bonus depreciation is not applicable for used equipment or other assets — in which case it’s best to take the Section 179 deduction on those assets when qualified.

California Sales Tax Exemption on

Manufacturing Equipment

Since brewing naturally requires a large amount of production equipment, most brewing equipment will qualify for California’s manufacturing sales tax exemption. The exemption allows a 4.1875% sales tax rate reduction on qualified production purchases. Claiming the reduced rate is simple and well worth the benefit. When making a qualified purchase or lease, simply provide a Partial Exemption Certificate for Manufacturing Equipment to the seller. Although the exemption began in July of 2014, it’s not too late to get a refund for the sales tax exemption that could have applied to prior qualifying purchases. Consult with your tax advisor to see about getting a refund for any past overpaid sales tax.

Whether it’s a bold new flavor, a more economic bottling procedure, or a new facility to expand your operation capacity, be sure to take advantage of the many tax incentives offered to breweries.

If you want to learn more about how your brewery can start saving cash, contact our craft beer and wine specialist, Brandon Scripps, at 408.286.7780 or at

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