Brewing Up Tax Savings with the Federal R&D Tax Credit

By Joseph P. Burwick, CPA on October 1, 2018
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Joseph P. Burwick, CPA


Microbreweries often experiment with flavors and processes in ways that may qualify for a significant federal tax credit.

When craft brewing is done right, it often seems more like art than science. So it should come as no surprise that many craft-brewers overlook a tax-saving opportunity that is more closely associated with science-based industries like pharmaceuticals and tech companies.

The Federal Research & Development (R&D) tax credit provides a federal tax credit based on certain expenditures business spend on “qualifying research activities” (QRAs).  Additional incentives are available for certain startups and smaller breweries, such as credit against certain payroll taxes and not being limited by the alternative minimum tax.

Qualifying Research Activities for Breweries and Microbreweries

That phrase “Qualified Research Activities” is the heart of the argument for applying the credit to certain microbrewery expenditures. Costs related to an activity that meets the four-part test to qualify for the R&D credit, regardless of the industry in which the business operates.

Examples of qualified activities for Breweries and Microbreweries include, but are not limited to:

  1. Developing new or improved hopping techniques, including testing new varieties or combinations of varieties. In fact, according to, there are about 80 different hops types commercially available. It’s not unreasonable to think that many others are in development.
  2. Develop new or improved malting, lautering, fermenting, or conditioning processes.
  3. Developing new or improved bottling processes to improve shelf longevity, lower cost, or other functional improvements,
  4. Improvements to your brewing process to reduce waste, improve water recycling throughout the process, improve filtration, reduce cycle time, or other functional aspects,
  5. Development related to new product formulations, including use of different ingredients or preservatives.

Deductibility is in the Details

Tax Situation ReviewThe potential benefits of the R&D credit are significant, so the government requires thorough documentation. If you’re planning to claim the credit, you’ll want to set up your accounting system to track QRAs in separate accounts. Time allocations for employees engaged in R&D are an important part of your records.  Actual timesheets and payroll records are the strongest support.  These can be supplemented with post-completion analyses of resources used, design drawings for proposed developments/improvements, meeting notes, and testing documentation.

Extra Benefits for Start-Ups and Small Businesses

The IRS rules don’t go into specifics about what constitutes sufficient documentation for any particular claim, but they do express a strong preference for contemporaneous documentation. If you’re planning to claim the R&D tax credit for your brewery or microbrewery, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable professional at the outset (or as soon as possible after starting!) to build the system that will document your costs accurately as you go.

The PATH Act of 2015 made the R&D credit permanent and even more valuable to microbrewery start-ups and small businesses. If you are a brewer with less than $5 million in current-year gross receipts and no gross receipts for any tax year that precedes the fourth preceding tax year, you can elect to claim up to $250,000 of the credit against your employer portion of Social Security tax. Partnerships, sole proprietorships and privately held corporations whose average annual gross receipts for the last 3 years that do not exceed $50 million, can also claim the credit against an alternative minimum tax liability. 

State Incentives for Brewers in New York

The Empire State also offers several incentives for brewers operating within its borders. Credits for investment in buildings and equipment apply to brewers, as do income and property tax credits for manufacturers. New York also provides an alcoholic beverage production credit and, for locally sourced beers, some reduced permit requirements. In addition, breweries can qualify for the state’s START-UP NY business incentive program, depending on their location.

Brewing Up Your Credit

Securing both Federal and New York State credits and incentives requires detail analysis and documentation.  In some cases this will require presentation to tax authorities in an audit to defend your position.

That’s why you’ll want to work with a team of experts with impeccable credentials in helping businesses of all types and sizes use the R&D Credit -and other tax minimization strategies – to lower their tax burden.

For more information about how your microbrewery could benefit from the R&D tax credit, please contact Freed Maxick at 716.847.2651.

For more insight, observations and guidance on the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, visit our Tax Reform webpage.

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