Christmas is a time to eat and drink more than perhaps the World Health Organization suggests you should, but how much of that Christmas glass of Veuve is going to the taxman?

Australia has a notoriously complicated alcohol taxation system with 14 different taxation categories and two different tax systems. And that’s if we put aside GST.


 Wine is the reason Australia has two different alcohol taxation systems. It’s taxed under the Wine Equalisation System (WET), which adds 29% to the wholesale price of wine (GST is excluded from the wholesale price). For the sake of the following explanations GST has been excluded.

The cheaper your wine, the less tax you’re going to pay, as it is a percentage of price. If you’re drinking on a budget and you pick up a $7 bottle of wine, expect to pay $2.03 in tax. But maybe you love your chardonnay pinot noir NV from House of Arras, which comes in at a cool $135. You will pay $39.15 in tax.

If you’re wondering where your tax dollars end up, it’s likely they’re going straight back to wine producers. Under WET $500,000 can be claimed back for wine producers per year. This has resulted in accusations of rorting within the industry through the use of “virtual winemakers” who have no connection to wineries but instead buy the wine and repackage it.

However, the federal government is started to crack down on these exemptions and is capping the amount that can be claimed back at $350,000 starting from July 1, 2018. There is also a rebate available if 85% of the grapes used to produce the wine are owned by the producers. The rebates are only for branded wine in a container not over five litres.


 All other types of alcohol are taxed based on their alcoholic volume. Alcoholic volume is the amount of pure alcohol in a beverage, so for example you buy a beer with 4.5% alcohol by volume content this means 4.5% of the total volume you’ve bought is pure alcohol.

Beer takes the prize for the most complicated alcohol to tax, with different tax brackets. Packaged beer is classified as either low alcohol (less than 3% alcohol by volume), medium (3 to 3.5% alcohol by volume) or full-strength beer (more than 3.5% alcohol by volume).

If you buy a case of beer with a 4.5% alcohol by volume and each bottle is 330mL, you’re going to pay $12.72 in tax, because you are paying for the amount of pure alcohol in the case.

There are additional categories for draught beer, which is taxed less than packaged beer. It’s enough to give you a hangover.

Business Insider explained how Joe Hockey’s white paper into tax reform touches on the mess beer taxation has become. For example, if a ginger beer has a 4.5% alcohol by volume it’s taxed like an alcopop. But if the ginger beer company increased the alcohol by volume content to 8% then it falls under WET because it’s characterised as a fruit wine. That would it cheaper than being hit by the alcopops tax, as outlined below.


 Alcopops, or as they’re more officially known, ready to drinks (RTDs), were a hot topic back in 2008 when their execise rate was bumped up from $39.36 to $66.67, their current rate is  now $81.21. This large jump from 2008 is due to eight years of indexation rises that occur twice a year. It’s also worth mention that despite this huge increase it didn’t curb teenage drinking. RTDs are anything that has an alcoholic content below 10%.

If you purchased a 24-pack of Vodka Cruisers, 6.5% alcohol by volume at 330mL per bottle you’d be slapped with $35.05 worth of tax. This is worked out by the equation used earlier, but the excise rate is $81.21. Hefty, considering the similar alcoholic content to full-strength beer.


 The final two categories are spirits — vodka, gin, etc — and brandy, both of which attract some of the highest tax rates.

A one-litre bottle of vodka would set you back $32.36 in tax alone. This is again worked out using the same equation with an excise rate of $81.21. But if you’re thinking of reaching out for some Hennessy, 700mL with a 40% alcoholic volume, then expect to be hit with $21.16 worth of tax because its excise rate is $75.85.