The Government Shutdown Is Bad For Beers and Breweries, Too
"Some breweries are in a real quagmire, particularly those that are unable to open until they get federal approval.”
It's 20 days into the government shutdown, and the United States hasn’t descended into the kind of lawless chaos where Imperator Furiosa speeds across the sand in her War Rig, but it’s safe to say that lot of things are not ideal right now. It's not just that hundreds of thousands of federal employees are either working without pay or have been furloughed. Our national parks have turned into picturesque port-a-johns; TSA workers are calling in sick; and the FDA has suspended its inspections of food processing facilities, even the ones deemed “high risk.”
On top of all that, now it’s affecting breweries, because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is currently closed as well. “TTB will suspend all non-excepted TTB operations, and no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries, including emails, telephone calls, facsimiles, or other communications,” a stark notice on the Bureau’s website reads. “TTB has directed employees NOT to report to work and they are prohibited by federal law from volunteering their services during a lapse in appropriations.”
What does that mean? A lot, actually. According to the Brewers Association, the TTB will not be approving labels for new beers or processing any permits, so there will be NO NEW BEERS for the duration of the shutdown. (Beers produced by small breweries or brewpubs that won’t be shipped outside of the state where they’re produced don’t require the TTB’s approval...BUT STILL.) In addition, any breweries that have applied for loans might not be able to get approval, regardless of whether they’ve submitted their applications to a bank, a credit union, or through the Small Business Administration.
“The immediate future of our business and our ability to turn beer into sales, to get it on shelves, to share it with our wholesalers and retailer partners just sits in jeopardy right now,” Zach Prichard, the president of Prairie Artisan Ales, told MSNBC on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the Oklahoma-based brewery took to Twitter to try to get the President’s attention. “Hey @realDonaldTrump, we are an American-owned company and we want to distribute a new beer, but the shutdown includes the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau... so we currently can't move forward,” Prairie wrote. “Please help. The people want the beer. #beer2020”
Unfortunately, the brewery hasn’t received a reply yet—at least not from the Commander-in-Chief. In an interview with NewsOK, Prichard says that the shutdown has prevented the release of a limited-edition brew that was otherwise ready to go. “This beer we were projecting to be 55 to 60 percent of our [January] sales,” he said. “[The shutdown] couldn't have happened at a worse time for us.”
For Washington, D.C.’s Atlas Brew Works, the shutdown means that a beer that should appear on shelves on February 1 is going to be late, if it’s ever produced at all. The brewery’s founder and CEO, Justin Cox, told DCist that they’d already submitted a label for an apricot IPA to the TTB, but even if the government reopens tomorrow, there’s no way it’ll be out on schedule. And if the shutdown drags on, Atlas might be forced to dump an entire tank of the beer. “That hurts, emotionally and monetarily,” he said.
Even breweries that aren’t directly impacted by the shutdown are still freaked out by the stories of those that are. “We were just talking about the federal shutdown at our all-hands meeting this afternoon,” Sean Lilly Wilson, the owner of Durham, NC’s Fullsteam Brewery told MUNCHIES. “We are going to be fine, but I understand that the government shutdown has a significant impact on breweries that rely on broad distribution to get their beer to market. Some breweries are in a real quagmire, particularly those that are unable to open until they get federal approval.”
But as much as this shutdown sucks for what’s on tap later this year—or what could’ve been on tap—it mostly just sucks, period. “I'm more worried about the permanent damage to national parks and to family incomes then I am our particular brewery,” Wilson said.
We’ll drink to that—at least while we still can.