As the shutdown rolls on, drowning your sorrows in craft beer may get more difficult

Lauren Warner
January 08, 2019 - 12:16 pm

Courtesy of Stouts & Stilettos

Hoping to pick up a few six-packs of your favorite craft brews to get you through the government shutdown? You might find it more difficult to buy those specialty and out-of-state beers. 

With the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) out of commission for the duration of the shutdown, craft breweries are unable to submit or receive approvals for beer permits and labels. 

At a time when many breweries are getting ready to launch new beers for their biggest sale seasons, TTB is going to be facing a serious backlog. With approximately 7,000 breweries across the country trying to submit new brews, brewers are waiting for licensing, and in some cases formula approval (required for the non-traditional brewing methods), for their new releases. Typically, approval takes 2-3 weeks...and with the government in its third week of the shutdown, brewers are bracing for a 2-3 month delay in approvals. 

Courtesy of Dreamstime

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Bart Watson, the chief economist for The Brewer's Association, said that delays could persist even when the government resumes normal functioning. "It's almost certain there will be a backlog when the shutdown ends," he said.

According to The Brewers Association, the TTB issued an Appropriations Lapse Notice. Until further notice, no federal labels or process permits will be issued, but the TTB made sure that brewers can still file electronic payments, returns for federal excise taxes, and operational reports through their website and pay.gov. Unfortunately for those at TTB who are also true lovers of beer, their website indicates that they have been prohibited from volunteering work during the shutdown as well. 

"We have the same issue as many other breweries," explains Torie Fisher, Founder & Owner of Backward Flag Brewing Company. "The unknown length of time we are facing for the shutdown is a little scary. I can also only assume that there will be a giant backlog of things to be processed that is building every day once federal workers go back to work. These are things that typically take a significant amount of time to process as part of normal operations, I can’t imagine the near future will be pretty."

Courtesy of Backward Flag Brewing Co.

For the growing number of craft breweries in the United States, sitting on product will create a financial burden as well as slowing down production. 

"We are a smaller brewery so we are able to pivot a little faster than larger ones, but it will still have an effect [on us]," continues Fisher. "As far as slowing production, we have a few beers sitting in tanks that we haven’t packaged in cans because we don’t have approval for the label. I’m sure we will be ok, but it is certainly inconvenient."

Courtesy of Full Tilt Brewing

The smaller breweries who don't distribute out of state seem to have been able to make it through the shutdown unscathed thus far. Full Tilt, based in Baltimore, MD, is one of those. "For us, keeping a smaller footprint kind of protects us from this kind of thing," explains Nick Fertig, Full Tilt's co-founder. "We already have our brewing license and no longer distribute out of state so label submission through TTB isn't necessary for us."

Courtesy of Railhouse Brewery

Another brewery, located in Southern Pines, NC, lucked out due to their supportive (and still being paid) military community. "If [the shutdown] continues for a longer period, we may see a drop in distribution sales but as of now that has not been the case," says Nicole Meyer, pub manager of Railhouse Brewing. "Additionally, the military members in our community are still being paid, so it hasn't affected our taproom much."

We are currently in the midst of the third longest government shutdown on the books...here's hoping we don't run out of beer to cope with it.

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