- Associated Press - Thursday, September 9, 2010

BOISE, Idaho | Sen. Michael D. Crapo of Idaho might seem like an unlikely person to be pushing a bill to cut federal taxes on small beer breweries: As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he abstains from alcohol.

But Mr. Crapo’s effort, with senators from Oregon, Massachusetts and Maine, illustrates the deep bond between Idaho Mormons and the beer industry.

Mormon farmers raise barley for Budweiser and Negra Modelo beers, and last year, Mormons in the Idaho Legislature helped kill a plan to raise beer and wine taxes to fund drug treatment, fearing it could hurt farmers.

Mr. Crapo touted the tax cut for brewers during an appearance at the Portneuf Valley Brewing Co. in Pocatello and said his position is simple: He won’t impose his own religious beliefs on others, especially when it could affect a growing industry.

“The [Idaho] wine industry is growing, too,” the Republican lawmaker said in an interview. “I’ll probably get asked to help the wine growers out. And I probably will.”

Most Idaho barley is grown in the southeastern part of the state, where more than 70 percent of the population belongs to the Mormon, or LDS, church.

Church founder Joseph Smith offered this revelation in 1833, “Strong spirits are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies,” and members have practiced abstinence since.

But the church, which declined to comment for this story, doesn’t demand that everybody quit drinking.

While teaching members to avoid alcohol, it urges public policies that establish “reasonable regulations to limit overconsumption, reduce impaired driving and work to eliminate underage drinking.”

In Utah, the Mormon heartland to Idaho’s south, policymakers also appear to be softening. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Mormon, and the Legislature normalized liquor laws last year, breaking up a 40-year-old system in which private clubs were among the few places where patrons could buy hard liquor.

Even so, Idaho’s Mormon barley farmers acknowledge an ambiguity in what they grow.

“I’ve often wondered about the correctness of doing it,” said Scott Brown, president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association and a Mormon who grows barley on 5,000 acres near Soda Springs. “But somebody is going to grow it, whether members of the LDS church do.”

Idaho is the nation’s second-leading barley producer behind North Dakota, and three-fourths of the nearly 50 million bushels produced by its farmers last year went to malters - and beer.

Mr. Crapo’s bill would cut the federal excise tax on brewers’ first 60,000 barrels of beer in half to $3.50, saving brewers up to $210,000 a year. Although Idaho has just 17 craft breweries, signs of its beer industry are impossible to overlook.

Anheuser-Busch’s barley-malting plant outside Idaho Falls juts into the sky, and Grupo Modelo, Mexico’s largest brewer, completed an $84 million malting facility in Idaho Falls in 2005. Great Western Malting Co. has operations in Pocatello that supply brewers and distillers worldwide.

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