New Beers Could Be Delayed As Government Shutdown Closes Label-Approval Office

During the shutdown of the federal government, which today stretches into its seventeenth day, national parks are struggling to clean up trash; small businesses can't get loan approval; and some Native American tribes are left without basic services. Government approval for beer labels might seem like small potatoes in comparison, but brewers say they and consumers will notice the results of the bottleneck if a budget deal isn't reached soon.

That's because the Alcohol And Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency responsible for approving all new beer and wine labels that will be sold across state lines, is currently closed. According to the TTB's website, "submissions will not be reviewed or approved until appropriations are enacted," and "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." Brewers who have submitted new beer labels for approval will have to wait until the office reopens to get approval, and they're bracing for a large backup that will delay an already lengthy and notoriously quirky process. "There is no way this won't hold up new stuff from us while they catch up [on label approvals] after they go back to work," Augie Carton, co-founder of Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, tells The Takeout. "So far we are okay, but our entire modus operandi is doing things 'off the beaten craft,' so very often our approvals are longer and more intricate than the average small brewer."

He says it's unclear exactly when brewers and then consumers would begin to notice the delay in beer releases.

"I'd guess planned March releasees may need to shuffle, but to be honest we are much more concerned about people going hungry and or homeless by not getting food stamps and housing assistance than having to reshuffle a new release with an old one," Carton adds.

Other breweries have also made their displeasure with the shutdown known. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Prairie Artisan Ales tweeted yesterday that "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."

The Brewers Association, which represents small and independent breweries, urges its members to "plan accordingly" for what they anticipate will be a delay in label approvals: "Breweries should be prepared for the labeling and permit process to take longer than previously estimated. Also, be aware that when the government is funded again there could be a backlog." It also notes that breweries who haven't opened yet but have applied for loans from banks or credit unions may be delayed in getting their funding, as financial institutions are unable to gather necessary information from the government regarding the businesses.

When the federal government faced a similar shut down in 2013, a spokesperson for Brooklyn Brewery told USA Today that the TTB backlog created a domino effect: "It's this one thing that then affects all these other things. We can't launch beers on time, which means our distributors can't sell it, which means our customers can't buy it."

The TTB's websites says no employees will be available to answer any communications, but that "once funding has been restored and the government shutdown is over, we will work to restore regular service as soon as possible."