Aluminum and steel tariffs worry local craft brewers 

click to enlarge It may become more expensive to can Bristol's Laughing Lab Scottish ale. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • It may become more expensive to can Bristol's Laughing Lab Scottish ale.

President Trump’s new steel and aluminum tariffs may have an effect on one of our city’s most near and dear industries — craft brewing. The tariffs, which exempt Mexico and Canada, add a 10 percent tariff on aluminum and a 25 percent tariff on steel. They could result in a blow to companies that use these materials, breweries included.

“It’s definitely something we are watching very closely right now,” says Todd Baldwin, president and founder at Red Leg Brewing Company. “We buy about 200,000 cans a year, so obviously it’s going to affect us as some level.”

Aluminum is the most visible metal in the industry, and much of it used for canning in Colorado Springs breweries comes from wholesale suppliers such as the Ball Corporation, located in Broomfield, and CanSource, located in Longmont.

“The tariffs may shift [brewers] to go back to bottles instead of cans if the price is higher on cans,” says Mike Bristol, founder and owner of Bristol Brewing Company. “From the brewery perspective there’s not enough margin to absorb a change like this without changing something on our side.”

Some breweries don’t have the choice of bottles, though.

“We would never switch to bottling over this,” says Travis Fields, founder and owner of Fieldhouse Brewing Company. “Our canning operation cost us $50,000, and it would cost way more to switch than whatever we will lose.”

And while aluminum is more familiar to customers, steel is imperative in the brewing and distribution process, and could cost brewers more in the long term. Kegs and tanks are made of steel, and while they don’t have to be replaced like aluminum does — once every 10 years most brewers say — they are expensive to buy and the tariff could increase that total cost.

The tariffs will officially go into place on Friday, March 23rd, but it will take a while for the costs of production to reach consumers. What does this mean for consumers?

“I would guess this summer we would start to see a change,” says Josh Adamski, co-owner and head brewer at Cerberus. “Once the effects hit our supplier, it will hit us, then our shelf price.”

The Brewers Association, a trade group that promotes and protects American brewers and others associated with the brewing industry, released the following on their website shortly after the tariffs were announced:

The Brewers Association is concerned about both the aluminum and steel tariffs and the potential implications they will have on small and independent brewers. Though we think the more targeted tariffs exempting Canada and Mexico are a step in the right direction, we do not believe that can sheet aluminum or the steel used to make brewing equipment poses a threat to national security.

More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to President Trump stating that imposition of tariffs would have unintended negative consequences on industries including breweries. Expect more political action once the tariffs are in place and start affecting prices. The Brewers Association is currently working with can manufacturers, large breweries, non-alcoholic beverage producers and Congress to address concerns with the administration’s proposed tariffs in an attempt to mitigate the impact on members.

“Ultimately, it’s going to affect brewing all the way from the manufacturing team to you, the customer,” says Baldwin. “That’s not something anyone in the business world wants.”

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