The standoff in Washington D.C. over funding the federal government could create a big problem: Our ability to get new beer.
The partial government shutdown came after President Donald Trump’s push for Democrats to approve his $5.7 billion demand for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Now, with the shutdown entering its third week, brewers in Georgia and across the country are on pause while their regulator remains shut down, leading to the inability to release new beers.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, approves all applications from people wanting to start a business making beer, wine or spirits. The agency also approves applications from existing businesses who want to start distributing new labels of booze.
Information is limited, said Taylor Harper, a Buckhead attorney who represents about 100 brewers in Georgia. The TTB website now declares that “no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries.”
Harper said breweries on both ends of the spectrum are most affected: start-ups seeking a federal license so they can submit state paperwork and operations wanting to distribute beer out of state both need the TTB.
Harper has about 20 Georgia clients in the process of starting a beer business who have been disrupted by this shutdown with no expiration date, he said.
One of them is Schoolhouse Brewing in Marietta. School-teachers-turned-brewers Thomas Monti and Justin Waller are now in limbo because their application was being processed by the TTB when the agency shut down.
Their space in Marietta is mid-construction and it’ll literally take an act of Congress for these business owners to open in spring 2019 as they planned.
“It’s part of what you deal with in small business, and you expect some setbacks, but there’s really no finger pointing. It’s just the situation we’re in,” Monti said.
Paul Gatza, director of the national trade group Brewers Association, said brewers usually send applications for federal permits several months before starting operations.
Applications are on hold indefinitely and forming a backlog, meaning there could be a delay on some brewery openings even once the shutdown is lifted, he said.
If the shutdown lingers, even exisitng breweries, which rely on the federal agency to approve out-of-state distribution, face interruption.
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“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,” Gatza said.
As of Dec. 21, the day before the government shut down, the TTB reports having received 192,000 applications for new labels year to date.
Some existing operations that distribute around the country — think SweetWater Brewing Company, Orpheus Brewing and Jekyll Brewing — have set in motion marketing campaigns they have to pause, Harper said.
“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,” Harper said.
The TTB reassures applicants with a note on its webiste: “Once funding has been restored and the government shutdown is over, we will work to restore regular service as soon as possible.”