Brewers: Shutdown means no new craft beer

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Brewers are warning that the ongoing partial government shutdown means no new craft beer releases.

“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. Please help. The people want the beer. #beer2020,” tweeted the Oklahoma brewery Prairie Artisan Ales this week.

{mosads}The government shutdown is entering a third week and brewers are worried that even when the government eventually reopens, the impact could slow down craft beer production and impact craft brewers’ bottom line this year.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which approves new labels, new liquor stores and new distribution across state lines, is shut down.

That means that breweries nationwide, ranging from New Jersey’s Belmar’s Beach Haus Brewery to Michigan’s Old Nation Brewing Co. to Oklahoma’s Krebs Brewing Co., have put plans on hold.

“The consumers want new and different all the time, so it’s really it’s gone from being a couple flagship beers to … updating it weekly, the styles you’re putting out,” Belmar’s Beach Haus Brewery owner John Merklin told New Jersey’s News 12. “We are a couple weeks into it, we have one label for submission that’s pending. That quickly can become two or three next week.”

Atlas Brew Works, based in Washington, D.C., told DCist they have a tank full of a new beer — an IPA brewed with fresh apricots — that they can’t sell because they don’t have approval for the beer’s label. The brewery is selling the beer by the glass in its taproom but won’t be able to sell enough of it to finish the tank.

“In the past we’ve had issues with a beer we can’t sell,” Justin Cox, Atlas Brew Works’ CEO and founder, told DCist. “Sometimes we have to dump it. And that hurts, emotionally and monetarily.”

Cox added that it’s hurting his business to be in a “holding pattern.”

“There’s an opportunity cost of having beer sitting in the tank which we could otherwise have packaged, that’s a bottleneck in our production,” he said. “We spent the 4th quarter of 2018 planning what we’re going to release, our recipes, and marketing plans for new beers. Now we’re trying to execute that plan but we’re in a holding pattern.”

A brewer in North Virginia told D.C.’s Craft Beer Cellar that his entire operation would feel the effects if the shutdown continues much longer.

“We work hard to get ahead of our business and this just wrecks our plans,” Port City founder Bill Butcher said. “If we can’t get our new labels approved in a timely manner, then it affects our entire operation. It hurts our employees, our farmers who provide our grain, our hops suppliers, our label printers, our box manufacturers and ultimately our distributors, retailers, and beer drinkers. This is a failure of government to do its job! Everyone suffers from the shutdown by slowing our business after we have busted our tails planning. It is inexcusable that this should happen.”

With the backlog piling up at TTB, brewers are uncertain how long their applications might take even when the government reopens.

The Brewers Association also warned last week that loans for small businesses like craft breweries will be delayed.

The shutdown is hitting larger breweries, too.

“The TTB shutdown is affecting us like everyone else,” Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Megan Lagesse told The Chicago Tribune. “Each of our craft partners and our company at large has beer labels in queue waiting to be approved.”

“We feel pretty helpless in the deal. I’m sure we’re not the only industry that’s experiencing that,” Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma President Patrick Lively told NewsOK.

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