Warner talks federal tariffs, brewers talk local distribution challenges

STAFFORD COUNTY — Senator Mark Warner kicked back a beer with a group of brewers and distillers.

It was his last stop on a whirlwind tour of Stafford County on Friday. The listening event took place at  3 p.m. at 6 Bears and a Goat Brewing Company on International Parkway.

It was billed as an opportunity to discuss President Trump’s tariffs and negative effects on companies that do business overseas. What the federal legislator got, however, was an earful from beverage makers about state-level issues like working with distributors, and getting their beers into local restaurants.

“I can only sell my beer to one person. I can’t go into a restaurant and try to sell them my beer, and there’s a desire to have local beers in local restaurants,” said Strangeways Brewing Founder Neil Bruton.

But distributors, who are in charge of selling and delivering beer to these restaurants, are pushing larger name brand beers to restauranteurs such as Devil’s Backbone, a small-craft brewer that was bought in 2016 by Anheuser-Busch.

Virginia’s brewing and distilling industry is regulated by a three-tiered system which requires makers to sell through licensed wholesalers, and wire retailers are required to purchase from wholesalers

Warner tried to steer the conversation back toward national issues.

“Talk to me about tariffs… give me a horror story about the price of cans going up,” he asked of the group.

“Cans aren’t going up… the cost of lids are going up,” replied Adventure Brewing Founder Tim Buckholtz.

Only one distiller in the room said the two percent to his overseas business to Europe, which amounted to two percent of his business, ended when President Trump enacted higher tariffs on steel and aluminum in January 2018.

The cost of the steel used to make new fermenters is going up, he added. All six beverage makers said they are in the process of expanding their businesses thanks to the Trump tax cuts of 2017.

“I’m getting materials from China because it’s cheaper,” said A. Smith Bowman Distiller Brian Prewitt.

The number of distilleries in Virginia is growing with 60 in the state, up from 44 last year.

Before stopping for a beer, Warner spoke at a cybersecurity conference at the Stafford Campus of Mary Washington University and met with state and county officials at the Stafford County Public Safety Center on Courthouse Road.

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