Trump's Aluminum Tariffs Leave Craft Brewers With The Tab

Jul 2, 2018

The tariffs President Trump imposed on imported steel and aluminum have been a drag on a lot of Ohio industries, including Columbus’s local craft beer scene.

Central Ohio is home to more than 40 craft breweries, and many of them can their own beer. And those cans take a whole lot of aluminum.

Seventh Son Brewing, like many local breweries, gets its cans from outside the country. Seventh Son co-founder Collin Castore says local breweries using aluminum cans can only get them from outside the U.S. because no stateside manufacturers make the type of cans they need.

Castore says even though the tariffs only increased prices by about a penny a can, those pennies add up.

“We all have to buy cans by the truckload, so that’s actually already raised it a couple thousand—for a lot of people—it's raised it a couple thousand bucks per truckload,” Castore says.

Those price increases bring the age-old question: Should brewers pass them on to customers, or plug their noses and drink it themselves? Ohio State economist Ned Hill says if prices get too high, brewers could reach another tipping point.

“If the price rise is enough, then what will happen is there's always the possibility to substitute to bottles,” Hill says.

But Castore says that it's easier said than done. Switching from a canning to bottling operation means completely different equipment, with prices reaching six figures.

Seventh Son imports its aluminum cans, which it says aren't made by any stateside manufacturer. Now, prices are increasing by several thousand dollars per truck.
Credit Michael Lee / WOSU

“It’s not just the can itself, it’s also the PakTech topper that comes on it, it’s also the cardboard case that comes on it, there’d be a lot of additional steps to go through to kind of transition into bottles,” Castore says.

Seventh Son and most other local brewers don’t plan on raising prices, Castore says, at least for now. But if the tariffs continue, he says that the price tag on your favorite Seventh Son beer will inevitably go up.

“Nobody wants to be that guy to raise the price of your four-pack or six-pack of beer,” he says.

That’s why brewers are fighting back.

Castore also leads the board for the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. In May, he went to a National Brewers Association event called the Capitol Hill Climb to help lobby against the tariffs. He says their action led to brewers becoming exempt from steel tariffs, which would have increased equipment prices.

When Trump announced the steel and aluminum tariffs back in March, he said steel and aluminum companies in the U.S. were being treated unfairly by other countries.

“More importantly, because of that, our workers in our country have not been properly represented," Trump told reporters. "So we’re going to build our steel industry back and we’re going to build our aluminum industry back."

But, Hill isn’t buying it. He says higher prices on imported steel will naturally drive up prices for domestic steel and offset any perceived advantage.

As for Castore, the tariffs also leave him feeling flat.

“I only see the craft beer industry and other industries ending up getting hurt from it,” he says.