Our King of Beer Passes On

Henry King, the energetic and iconic supporter of the brewing industry, died yesterday. He was 83.

King headed the United States Brewer Association for 22 years from 1961-1983. He then ran the Brewers Association from 1992-1998.

King was the driving force in what was the important legislation ever passed to affect the craft beer industry. In 1973, as president of the USBA, King convinced the major brewers at the time, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller, Schlitz, National, Heilemann, Pabst and Stroh, to support an excise tax differential for their smaller-sized competitors in the industry.

A major effort was mounted by the USBA in conjunction with the BAA. King and his staff coordinated the effort, spearheading the push in Congress. By 1975 the entire industry; from maltsters and hopsters to packaging and machinery suppliers had joined the fight. That year the House Ways and Means Committee approved such legislation but adjourned before it was voted out. The bill was finally voted out of committee as H.R. 3605 and passed by both chambers. It was signed into law on October 18, 1976. It reduced the excise tax on beer from $9.00 to $7.00 a barrel, on the first 60,000 barrels produced by a corporate brewery in a year, providing the brewer made less than 2,000,000 barrels that year. Of the 53 brewing companies operating at that time, only 39 companies qualified and almost half of those produced less than 60,000 barrels per year.

The craft brewing industry was allowed to ferment, grow and thrive because of the small brewer’s tax differential. The craft brewing industry would not exist today in its present size and scope, and perhaps not at all, if not for this important tax break for small brewers.

King also supported, along with past BAA president Lee Holland, the participation of craft brewers in the BAA. At the 50th anniversary conference of the BAA, held in San Francisco, King invited this reporter to speak to the BAA membership about the rising tide of craft brewers in America. It was the largest gathering of BAA members since 1978 and was geared to all levels of small brewers, featuring 18 speakers across 7 hours of meeting in less than two days. It was a benchmark year, as from that point on, craft brewers began to join, ardently support, and eventually drive a renewed Brewers Association of America.

King was always accessible. He passionately talked about important and deep issues affecting brewers, and spoke of the industry as a family. He is someone who willingly and easily bridged the gap between heritage brewers and the new arrival of craft brewers.

He led an extraordinary life. A highly decorated and distinguished military career, father of 17 children, served on numerous boards and commissions under the Crater and Reagan administration and donated a huge part of his life to worthy causes.

King had been battling cancer for a number of years, and suffered a severe heart attack on February 4th. His health had been in decline since. -Tom McCormick