So we all know what we think is a good beer in our own humble opinions, or what we consider to be craft beer vs “normal” beer… but would our favourite homebrew be officially considered a beer if we were to present it to the ATO? What is the common factor relating all the very different styles and brands of beer to one another as beer itself?
According to the Australian Taxation Office website, a brewed beverage is defined as beer if it meets a set of requirements defined in the Schedule to the Excise Tariff Act. These standard criteria are:
So in summary, a beer must be fermented from liquid wort (I myself have never heard of someone fermenting a drink from a solid base…), of which the sugars were predominantly extracted from a malted cereal based starch source, is no bitterer than 4 IBU, is not fortified beyond 0.5% of the total ABV (so a desperado or a jäger bomb are not technically classified as beers) of at least 1.15%, contains less than 4%w/w of simple sweet sugars and is not sweetened with the likes of aspartame (thank goodness, although I am quite certain that I have tasted something suspiciously artificial in more than a few beers that I have tasted before).
It does read a little like an excerpt from what would be the brewing version in the ‘… for Dummies’ series of books, however when it comes to things like alcoholic beverages it is important to have some specific guidelines. Imagine if “beers” started popping up on the market with less than 4 IBU? 4 IBU as the lower limit is pushing it as it is - I once drank a 4 IBU beer brewed by a group of food tech students who didn’t like to drink beer and did it just to piss of the brewing teacher I think… it tasted like fizzy glass of water with a syrupy mouthfeel. Or if there were no guidelines, I’m sure many spirit companies would try and call their RTDs beer to get a lower taxation rate… who wouldn’t? Or someone would market a sickly sweet fizzy soda drink as beer and then we’d all be totally confused.
Beyond the Australian legal definition of beer is the tax system on different volumes of beer in kegs and bottles that seems to tickle the brain of even the smartest mathematician. I’m not going to tackle it in mind-numbing detail here but it’s interesting to note that a smaller keg is subject to a higher tax rate than a larger 50L one. Why it is cheaper to make more beer is beyond me, and consequently brewery workers are breaking their backs to move 65kg of beer in one shot because they can’t afford to make it in smaller and lighter packaging. I’m sure there’d certainly be a reduction in Work Cover claims and back problems in the brewing industry if this were amended, not to mention the beer in the bars being fresher due to faster emptying of the beer carrying vessel… although I still couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor lady representing the ATO at a brewing conference I attended who was attacked with a barrage of complaints from people with back pain and neck pain that had clearly affected their clarity of judgement to distinguish between an administrative employee and the actual government that made the rules.
And of course, the higher the alcohol content relative to total volume, the more tax you pay... in Australia at least. The reason I mention this taxation law is because it is quite different to some other countries such as the United States of America… but you’ll have to stay tuned for the next instalment of What is Beer? when I look at beer in other parts of the world.