Government shutdown brewing up problems for craft beer makers

By Travis Gettys
Saturday, October 12, 2013 9:52 EDT
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A woman holds a big mug of beer. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
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The government shutdown has put the craft brewing industry on ice.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates brewers and their products, is closed until Congress can agree on a budget resolution, and that means beer makers can’t roll out new products.

Employees of the agency must approve labels and beer recipes before they can be sold, and that process takes 45 days even when federal workers are on the job.

Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, Maryland, has been brewing Four Score and Seven for several months to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, but the beer can’t be sold because it hasn’t yet gotten approval from the bureau.

The brewpub’s owner said he’d hoped to open his business in time for the holidays, but those plans had been curtailed because he can sell food, but not his beer.

“That’s delaying the brew portion of it, the beer portion,” said owner Steve Acup.

The TTB processes about 400 label applications a day for beer, wine and distilled spirits.

A Cincinnati brewer said the shutdown had delayed his plans to bring his latest beer, called Fruition, to market.

“The beer is basically done,” said Scott LaFollette, owner of Blank Slate Brewery. “We’re getting ready to package it, and then we’ll have to sit on it.”

The owner of the company that bottles Samuel Adams said the shutdown might force him to dump beer if some new varieties he’s got on tap can’t be approved soon.

“Craft brewing is very regulated,” said Jim Koch, owner of the Boston Beer Company. “Every time we have a new beer, we have to have a label approved, every time we have a new brewing process we need federal approval and when we have new beers ready to bring to market, we need federal approval.”

Brewers are worried that an extended shutdown will back up the regulation process whenever the budget issue is finally resolved.

“When they open back up, they’re going to be behind,” said Suzie Ford, who owns NoDa Brewery in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I mean, there’s going to be everybody and their brother – 2,600 plus breweries in the country waiting to submit their labels for approval, and they’re already understaffed, so it’s going to be a nightmare when that happens.”

[A woman holds a big mug of beer. Photo: Shutterstock.com.]

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