Mmmm ... Beer 

Ah, beer. If there was any question as to its greatness, the National Beer Wholesalers Association released an economic study showing the beer industry brings $714 million into Idaho's annual economy.

The association's latest economic impact study concludes that the brewing industry brings 4,832 jobs, $96 million in wages and $119 million in taxes to Idaho.

According to the Idaho State Police Alcohol and Beverage Control bureau, Idaho is home to 18 licensed breweries, two brew pubs, 49 wholesalers, while 3,995 businesses hold retail beer licenses. All this adds up to a whole lot of brewskies. ABC said 32.6 million gallons of beer were reported sold in the state in 2006, a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

The study takes into account direct, and indirect factors, including jobs within the brewing industry, as well as those attached to the business, including those at bars, stadiums, convenience stores and grocery stores.

On a national level, the study found the industry contributes roughly $190 billion to the economy, creates more than 1.7 million jobs and helps support the agricultural industry with its demand for barley, hops, brewers' rice and brewers' corn.

Of course, the success of the beer industry has to be taken with a grain of salt for people like Lt. Bob Clements, ABC bureau chief. Clements is on the front line of ABC's fight to shut down several bars and clubs after a long undercover operation concluded there were prohibited, sexually oriented activities taking place in the establishments, which include the Kit Kat Club, the Torch and even the Big Easy concert house.

Clements said the costs incurred by underage drinking, drunk driving and alcohol abuse have to be taken into consideration.

He pointed to a recent study published by the International Institute of Alcohol Awareness, which stated that property damage, deaths, injuries and loss of productivity attributed to alcohol consumption cost the country $62.6 billion each year.

Clements also cited a 2003 Institute of Medicine report to Congress, which stated there are $52 billion in costs related to underage drinking annually.

"Is the balance there?" he asked.

At the same time, the brewing industry touts its efforts to promote responsible drinking through programs to combat both alcoholism and underage drinking.

Whether the revenue brought into the state by the brewing industry outweighs the costs associated with alcohol abuse is a debate left to the individual. It may be an issue best discussed with friends--perhaps over a cold beer.

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