State Alcohol Tax Revenues Surge During Pandemic

Revenues from the state’s excise taxes on alcoholic beverage sales rose to $73.8 million in the 2021 fiscal year that ended June 30, a 16.6% increase over the $63.3 million collected in fiscal year 2020, according to preliminary data from the Department of Revenue (DOR). These collections come from state taxes with rates that vary depending on the type of alcoholic beverage: beer, wine, hard cider, or liquor.

Wisconsin’s 16.6% preliminary annual increase in alcohol excise tax revenues far exceeds the generally modest increases seen in prior years. Between 2009 and 2020, the percentage increase in alcohol tax collections exceeded 2.4% in only one year.

Alcohol excise taxes in Wisconsin are based on the volume of beverage sold, rather than its price. Beer is taxed at approximately 6.5 cents per gallon; wine is taxed at 25 cents per gallon (about 6.6 cents per liter) if it has an alcohol content of 14% or less by volume. If its alcohol content exceeds 14%, it is taxed at 45 cents per gallon (about 11.9 cents per liter).

Hard cider is taxed at 6 cents per gallon if its alcohol content is less than 7%; if it exceeds that level, it is taxed at the same rate as wine. Distilled liquor, meanwhile is taxed at a far higher rate: $3.25 per gallon.

Beer taxes are paid by Wisconsin wholesalers and breweries on a monthly basis on sales of beer in Wisconsin or shipments into the state; all other alcohol taxes are collected on Wisconsin sales and shipments into the state through monthly payments by distributors, out-of-state shippers, and Wisconsin manufacturers and wineries. In addition, the state’s general 5% sales tax also applies to alcohol sales and is collected by retailers based on price – we did not look at any state of Wisconsin data on general sales taxes.

Wisconsin has long ranked among the bottom tier of states for the rates at which it taxes alcohol. Its beer tax rate is among the nation’s lowest, ranking 48th among the 50 states in 2021, according to the Tax Foundation. Two of the other states with the lowest beer tax rates – Missouri and Colorado – share a tradition with Wisconsin as major beer producers. However, Wisconsin’s wine tax rate also ranks low at 43rd and its liquor rate ranks 41st.