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TTB Ramps Up Tax Audits and Enforcement

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) Office of Field Operations is responsible for ensuring industry members comply with the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, the Internal Revenue Code and all related regulations. It is divided into three groups: the Trade Investigations Division (TID), the Tax Audit Division (TAD) and the Intelligence Division.

Many industry members are most familiar with the TID, as it is comprised of investigators who are responsible for enforcing compliance with the trade practice laws and maintaining a level playing field. The TAD may be less familiar, however, as it is comprised of auditors who are responsible for ensuring payments of excise taxes and compliance with the laws and regulations in a manner that protects revenue and prevents unlawful activity in the commodities that the TTB regulates. The TAD works with other areas of the TTB and has the resources to assist in the investigations of underpayment of tax or other financial areas that relate to the laws and regulations enforced by the TTB. The TAD also performs random audits, which means that every industry member is susceptible to an audit.

Over the past year, the TAD has issued tax-related citations for failure to timely file and/or pay taxes, use of inappropriate tax rates (largely stemming from the improper use of reduced tax rates under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) and failure to maintain adequate records, among other violations. In 2023, the TTB resolved these violations by accepting offer-in-compromise (OIC) settlement payments from the targeted industry members, collectively, to the tune of approximately $850,000.

Based on a review of the OICs which are published on the TTB website, there were a wide range of tax-related violations last year, including:

  • Failure to timely file and/or pay taxes and reports. These failures accounted for nearly 70% of all OIC violations. In these common infringements, the permittee submits their reports or taxes late. The causes for a violation can range from (1) a simple late submission, even 1-2 days late; (2) filing the tax return without paying the taxes; (3) late payments due to processing times; or (4) a change in filing frequency. It is important to ensure that industry members’ reports are filed on time (even a day late is sufficient to warrant a violation) and that the taxes are paid promptly.
  • Use of inappropriate tax rates. There are two main categories of tax rate violations: (1) inappropriate use of reduced tax rates or credits, largely through improper use of the CBMA, and (2) inappropriate categorization of the product (commonly wine). An accurate determination of the product’s tax class is crucial to avoiding these violations, as is consideration of your eligibility (and continued eligibility) for CBMA-reduced rates or credits. We saw a significant increase in tax-related enforcement due to violations from acquisitions completed in the first half of 2023 which impacted eligibility of the reduced tax rates for the entity as a new member [...]

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The Tax Implications of Purchasing Craft Producers in the First Half of 2024

We have republished this August 2023 blog post ahead of the start of 2024.

If a large beverage company is considering purchasing or selling a craft beverage producer, it’s essential to understand how the craft producer may lose its earlier eligibility for reduced tax rates under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) in the first half of a calendar year once it becomes a member of the purchaser’s larger controlled group.

The CBMA provides for certain reduced tax rates on the initial quantities of production and/or removal of beer, wine and spirits. More specifically, it permits a reduced rate of $16 per barrel of beer on the first six million barrels brewed and removed by a domestic brewer, a reduced rate of $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 proof gallons of distilled spirits removed from bond and different, but reduced, tax credits on domestically produced wine credits.

However, to protect against larger manufacturers unjustly benefiting from these reduced tax rates through ownership in different corporate entities, the CBMA made permanent certain controlled group rules. These rules apply the availability of the reduced rates across the overall quantity limitations associated with the greater corporate structure of controlled groups of distilled spirits plants, wine premises and breweries.

The industry has understood the application of these rules for several years. Yet, pursuant to 26 US Code § 1563, it is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) position that if a company (whether that be a corporation or an LLC) is a member of a controlled group of companies for more than six months (one-half) of any calendar year, that such member is then a component member of the controlled group for the entirety of the calendar year.

So, if a large beverage company purchases a smaller producer in the first two quarters of the year, the reduced tax rates the smaller producer took in the first six months prior to the acquisition may be forfeited based on the larger company’s rates of removal.

Consider this example:

  • Company A is a craft distiller. From January 1 to May 1 of any calendar year, it was eligible for and paid the reduced tax rate of $2.70 on its spirit removals under the CBMA.
  • Company B is a larger distiller. It exhausted its eligibility for the reduced rates within the first two weeks of the same calendar year.
  • If Company B were to purchase Company A on May 1, the two companies would be treated as members of the same controlled group from May 1 to the end of the year. Company A’s eligibility for the reduced rates it lawfully took for the first four months of the year would be forfeited and subjected to either the $13.34 or $13.50 per proof gallon rates for which the combined controlled group would have been eligible depending on the controlled group’s removals.
  • In other words, following a TTB audit, Company A would have underpaid its tax liability to TTB prior to its [...]

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TTB Issues Updated Guidance on Transfers of Beer Between Breweries Under Separate Ownership

On July 13, 2023, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published Procedure Number 2023-1, providing brewers with updated guidance on the transfer of beer without tax payment between breweries not of the same ownership.

The Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 temporarily permitted the transfer of beer between breweries under different ownership without the payment of tax (previously, transfers of beer in bond were limited to breweries under the same ownership). TTB issued Procedure 2018-1 to provide brewers with guidance on how to effectuate these newly approved transfers; however, it stated it was effective only through December 31, 2019.

Although the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 made a brewer’s right to transfer beer without the payment of tax to a brewer of different ownership permanent, TTB did not update the Procedure issued in 2018. TTB informally communicated that brewers could continue to rely on Procedure 2018-1 even though it was no longer “effective,” but it has now published updated guidance on such transfers.

Recording and Reporting Transfers

As set forth in Procedure 2021-1, a shipping brewer must prepare an invoice covering the transfer. The invoice must show that the brewer transferred the beer without the payment of tax. It must also feature the following:

  1. The name and address of the shipping brewer;
  2. The date of shipment;
  3. The name and address of the receiving brewer; and
  4. For cases, the number and size of cases and the total barrels; for kegs, the number and size of kegs and the total barrels; for shipments in bulk containers, the type of container, the identity of the container and total barrels.

A shipping brewer should use the transfer invoice to prepare its required daily records and monthly Brewer’s Report of Operations (BROP) or Quarterly Brewer’s Report of Operations (QBROP). A receiving brewer should use the transfer invoice showing beer received from another brewery without the payment of tax in preparing its required daily records and the BROP or QBROP.

Permissible Containers and Labeling Requirements for Transferred Beer

Transfers of beer without the payment of tax may be made in a brewer’s packages or in bulk containers.

Beer transferred in a brewer’s packages from one brewery to another brewery under separate ownership must meet the marking, branding and labeling requirements set forth in 27 CFR § 25.141–25.143. Beer transferred in bulk containers (containers with a capacity larger than one barrel of 31 gallons) from one brewery to another brewery under separate ownership must meet the marking, branding and labeling requirements set forth in 27 CFR § 25.145.

Taking Advantage of Reduced Tax Rates for Transferred Beer

The CBMA establishes a reduced excise tax rate of $16 per barrel on the first 6,000,000 barrels of US-produced beer brewed by a brewer and removed during the calendar year. For brewers producing 2,000,000 barrels or less, an excise tax rate of $3.50 per barrel applies on the first 60,000 [...]

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The Tax Implications of Purchasing Craft Producers in the First Half of a Year

If a large beverage company is considering purchasing or selling a craft beverage producer, it’s essential to understand how the craft producer may lose its earlier eligibility for reduced tax rates under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) in the first half of a calendar year once it becomes a member of the purchaser’s larger controlled group.

The CBMA provides for certain reduced tax rates on the initial quantities of production and/or removal of beer, wine and spirits. More specifically, it permits a reduced rate of $16 per barrel of beer on the first six million barrels brewed and removed by a domestic brewer, a reduced rate of $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 proof gallons of distilled spirits removed from bond and different, but reduced, tax credits on domestically produced wine credits.

However, to protect against larger manufacturers unjustly benefiting from these reduced tax rates through ownership in different corporate entities, the CBMA made permanent certain controlled group rules. These rules apply the availability of the reduced rates across the overall quantity limitations associated with the greater corporate structure of controlled groups of distilled spirits plants, wine premises and breweries.

The industry has understood the application of these rules for several years. Yet, pursuant to 26 US Code § 1563, it is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) position that if a company (whether that be a corporation or an LLC) is a member of a controlled group of companies for more than six months (one-half) of any calendar year, that such member is then a component member of the controlled group for the entirety of the calendar year.

So, if a large beverage company purchases a smaller producer in the first two quarters of the year, the reduced tax rates the smaller producer took in the first six months prior to the acquisition may be forfeited based on the larger company’s rates of removal.

Consider this example:

  • Company A is a craft distiller. From January 1 to May 1 of any calendar year, it was eligible for and paid the reduced tax rate of $2.70 on its spirit removals under the CBMA.
  • Company B is a larger distiller. It exhausted its eligibility for the reduced rates within the first two weeks of the same calendar year.
  • If Company B were to purchase Company A on May 1, the two companies would be treated as members of the same controlled group from May 1 to the end of the year. Company A’s eligibility for the reduced rates it lawfully took for the first four months of the year would be forfeited and subjected to either the $13.34 or $13.50 per proof gallon rates for which the combined controlled group would have been eligible depending on the controlled group’s removals.
  • In other words, following a TTB audit, Company A would have underpaid its tax liability to TTB prior to its acquisition by Company B and exceeded the quantity limitations for which the [...]

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Federal Alcohol Excise Taxes 101

There are many laws at both the federal and state level that govern the production and distribution of distilled spirits. For example, craft distillers must comply with licensing and permitting requirements, trade practice laws, advertising restrictions, and, depending on the jurisdiction, alcohol franchise law. One of the most fundamental—and most complex—areas of law governing distilled spirits is excise taxes.

An article authored by McDermott’s Bethany K. Hatef in the Winter 2020 issue of Artisan Spirit Magazine provides a high-level overview of the federal alcohol excise tax system and some specific features that apply to distilled spirits, and also explains the current status of the Craft Beverage Modernization Act, the legislation temporarily providing for reduced tax rates for certain amounts of distilled spirits.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit Magazine: Winter 2020.




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Further CBP Guidance on Craft Beverage Modernization Act

Earlier this week, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued further guidance on the procedures for importers to take the lower tax rates and credits available under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA).

Key points of the new guidance:

  1. CBP will process drawback claims on an oldest-entry-first basis.
  2. Failure to substantiate drawback claims by January 31, 2019, risks a loss of the CBMA rates/credits for the entries in question.
  3. Going forward, every entry seeking to claim CBMA rates/credits must be accompanied by a CBMA Spreadsheet based on a template provided by CBP.
  4. Each importer must also submit a Controlled Group Spreadsheet, based on a template provided by CBP, for each controlled group it belongs to (foreign producers have the option of providing this information directly to CBP). Importers are responsible for immediately reporting to CBP any changes to the information in the Controlled Group Spreadsheet.
  5. Each foreign producer must provide their importer or CBP with an Assignment Certification based on a template provided by CBP.

With this guidance, importers can now start benefiting from the CBMA lower rates and credits on entries going forward, and make drawback claims for imports entered since January 1, 2018.




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New CBMA Guidance Further Clarifies Excise Tax Rules for Imported Beverages

Last week Customs & Border Protection (CBP) issued additional guidance on the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) rules for applying the CBMA lower excise tax rates (for beer and distilled spirits) and credits (for wine) to alcohol beverages imported from other countries.

The new guidance provides further clarity on the procedures required to make claims for drawback (refund) of taxes paid at the non-CBMA rate on product imported since the beginning of calendar 2018. It also indicates that CBP expects to provide additional guidance this month (October) on taking the lower rates and credits contemporaneously with importing additional product going forward. Among other things, CBP apparently will soon publish: (1) a Controlled Group Spreadsheet to track eligibility for the lower rates and credits; and (2) an Assignment Certification that foreign producers must execute and their importers must file in order to claim the CBMA lower rates and credits.

In short, if CBP can keep to its timetable, importers can begin claiming the lower CBMA rates and credits by the end of the month.




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