Business

Waiting for new beer from your favorite brewer? The shutdown has turned off the tap

New brewing equipment, rear, sits idle in a warehouse used by the Alementary Brewing Co. in Hackensack, N.J.
New brewing equipment, rear, sits idle in a warehouse used by the Alementary Brewing Co. in Hackensack, N.J. AP

If you were planning to drown your sorrows over the government shutdown, you might want to look for a different way to self-soothe.

Brewers across the country are growing anxious because the shutdown means they can’t get labels approved for their new brews by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Translation: That tap is running dry.

“If the shutdown goes on for an extended time, beer drinkers won’t see much in the way of innovative new brands on the shelves where they buy beer,” Paul Garza, director of the Brewers Association trade group, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For example, Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri was going to introduce a beer next month called Materfamilias. But the “beer is in a tank on hold” while Mother’s waits for the bottle labels to be federally approved, reports KY3.

“We didn’t think it would take this long,” Jeff Schrag, Mother’s owner and founder told the Springfield station. “We’ve been through lots of government shutdowns.”

The Tax and Trade Bureau has “to catch up, as well as deal with every new entry that comes along. So it will take them months to get back to the schedule they had before,” Schrag said, according to KY3.

In Krebs, Oklahoma, brewery Prairie Artisan Ales also has new releases on hold, which is a direct hit to its bottom line.

“Every month we have a new release come out, and for us it’s a pretty big deal,” Zach Prichard, owner of Prairie and president of Krebs Brewing Co., told The Oklahoman.

“We have a beer we would like to ship as early as next week. We were expecting to get the approval any day when the shutdown happened. . . .

“This beer we were projecting to be 55 to 60 percent of our sales (in January). This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for us.”

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

Based in Washington, D.C., the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — known as TTB — approves applications for new beer, wine and spirits businesses, and also “approves applications from existing businesses who want to start distributing new labels of booze,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If you type “TTB” into Google right now you’ll run into this message: “TTB is closed.”

An announcement there says people can still submit applications online, but they won’t be reviewed or approved “until appropriations are enacted. Once funding has been restored and the government shutdown is over, we will work to restore regular service as soon as possible.”

The Brewers Association has advised members to “be prepared for the labeling and permit process to take longer than previously estimated. Also, be aware that when the government is funded again there could be a backlog. Breweries should plan accordingly.”

More bad news: If your brewery “is in the process of applying for a loan from a bank or credit union they are likely unable to get the information they need from the federal government to process your loan.”

On the other hand, the association notes, breweries are still required to pay their federal excise taxes during the shutdown.

“The hard pill to swallow for some folks is that they still have to go in and pay their excise taxes and submit their reports and there’s no reciprocation in the services that have to offered,” Atlanta attorney Taylor Harper, who represents about 100 Georgia breweries, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“If it goes longer than three weeks then our opening is going to be pushed back, probably double that amount,” Wyndee Forrest told KSNV in Las Vegas. “It puts a small business, an independently owned small business in a very precarious situation.”

Forrest, who is on the board of the Nevada Craft Brewers Association, said she knows of about four breweries in the planning stages in southern Nevada “and I would assume their licenses are being put on hold.”

Brewery owners in North Carolina are getting anxious, too.

“It’s a frustrating process to go through for our bills to be going up and the current government shutdown to be affecting the timing of label approval,” Philip McLamb, owner of a Charlotte brewery, Resident Culture, told WBTV. ”Most of our beers we make are new beers, we rarely brew the same beer twice.

“We have two festivals we need label approvals for in January and a couple in February and it’s gonna be really annoying if we can’t.”

In Maine, Dave Rowland planned to open a sister brewery for his SoMe Brewing Company in York.

In late November he submitted his application for York Beach Brewing Company, the Bangor Daily News reports.

Now, he waits.

“We were told it would be an expedited process because we’d applied for one brewer’s notice already with SoMe,” Rowland said, according to the Daily News.

“Now it’s completely up in the air, for Lord knows how long. We’re all set to get final approval from the state and local level, but we can’t do that until we get our federal notice. I’m just sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, watching my bank account drain.”

Harper told the Journal-Constitution he has about 20 clients in Georgia who are also waiting to get federal approval for new beer businesses.

Existing brewers who need federal approval to distribute their beer out-of-state could start feeling repercussions, too, if the shutdown continues, Garza of the Brewers Association told the Atlanta newspaper.

In New Jersey, the shutdown stalled the Alementary Brewing Co.’s plans to expand and increase its beer production by next month because it can’t get the necessary federal permits, according to NorthJersey.com.

On Monday, owners Michael Roosevelt and Blake Crawford and Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer stood in front of about $1 million worth of brewing equipment, now idle, and talked about how the shutdown is affecting the business.

“To let the shutdown go on for months or years, as some have said, is to look at business owners like Mike or Blake and tell them to pour their beer out on the street,” Gottheimer said.

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