WASHINGTON — Joe Redner says he last had a drink (and snort of cocaine) a quarter century ago. But he plied the halls of Congress this week for beer equality.
"I feel funny asking to cut taxes," the politically liberal Tampa strip club owner said Thursday afternoon. "But I don't think these taxes are very fair."
Redner, 72, is in town with his son for a craft brewing trade show and spent time lobbying members of Florida's delegation for a bill that would cut excise taxes on beer.
"The Republicans were more receptive than the Democrats," Redner said, grinning as he sat on a couch inside the Washington Convention Center, site of the trade show that attracted thousands of people from the burgeoning industry.
Joey Redner, 40, owner of Cigar City Brewing, explained that the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act would cut federal excise tax on beer from $7 a barrel to $3.50 for the first 60,000 barrels. The tax was instituted to help fund the Civil War.
Despite the House and Senate having a small brewers caucus, the legislation faces a powerful foe: major brewers such as MillerCoors, arguing that any breaks should be applied across the industry.
"I felt like it went good, but I feel like every time we go, it feels good," the younger Redner said. "At least you get to meet the legislative aides, the people really involved in making representatives and senators know what's important to their constituents."
Joey Redner started selling beer in March 2009 and has quickly made a name in the industry. This year, Cigar City expects to produce 25,000 barrels, mainly IPA, brown ale, Belgian white and Helles lager.
"It's definitely a fast-growing industry and the southeast is growing faster than anywhere," he said. "Of course, it has a lot of ground to make up."
Sales of craft brew were up 17 percent in 2012 and volume was up 15 percent vs. 1 percent for the entire U.S. industry, according to the Brewers Association.
Joey Redner said the Small BREW Act would save him about $100,000 this year, which would be put back into hiring more employees and buying equipment — American equipment, he made a point of saying. His business started with two employees and now has 51.
His father is a partner in the brewery but has never tasted the goods. "Every time I got in trouble I was drinking. I guess I used it for courage in the beginning when I was fighting the city, the police and everybody, the world," Joe Redner said.
He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2011 but the disease is in remission. Joe Redner's drink of choice these days is a fruit shake he makes each morning with grapes, apples, banana, grapefruit, strawberries, blueberries, almonds, walnuts, pecans and protein powder.
"Oh," he said, rattling off the ingredients, "I add in some steel-cut oats."
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