The effects from the federal governments partial shutdown are far-reaching: The national parks are shuttered. Many government services are delayed. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed.
And now add one more consequence to the list: no new breweries or beers.
The political impasse in Washington means a little-known government agency called the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is closed. The TTB, as it is known, is a division of the Treasury Department that processes beer excise taxes and approves new breweries, recipes and labels.
And even if Democrats and Republicans reach a deal this week, the backlog is likely to cause problems for weeks to come.
For North Carolina, where the craft beer scene is growing by the day, the federal stall is particularly painful. A handful of new breweries across the state are facing indefinite delays to open, and dozens of existing brewers who are trying to expand into other states or debut new beers are stymied.
It comes at a key time in the beer calendar, when breweries are trying to debut new seasonal beers for the winter months to satisfy a market always seeking new tastes and boundary-pushing recipes.
Fortnight Brewing Co. expected to debut its new Cary brewery in a few weeks. Company president Stuart Arnold said the brewery applied for its federal permits to open three months ago and expected to have them by now. We were targeting a November opening date, but now we are not really sure, Arnold said.
I cant predict what is going to happen, he added. Hopefully we are the top piece of paper and the first thing to do when they get back to work.
Kayne Fischer, a co-owner of Natty Greenes Brewing Co., which has operations in Greensboro and Raleigh, said the timing couldnt be worse. Natty Greenes is redesigning all its labels and trying to expand into the Virginia and Washington, D.C., markets.
Carolina breweries can sell within the state after receiving approval from the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission in Raleigh, but distributing across state lines puts them in federal jurisdiction. So each new label and each new beer sold across state lines needs TTB consent.
We went to pitch to these (beer distributors) up in Virginia months ago, Fischer explained. We pitched our brand lineup with the confidence that we could get it to them. With this shutdown, we cant deliver.
The new labels for a couple of Fischers core beers were recently approved but not the Red Nose Winter Ale, the companys No. 1 seasonal seller, which is supposed to land on shelves and taps this month.
Not only will Natty Greenes lose direct sales, but if the brewery doesnt land with a splash in a new market, distributors wont push its product as strongly, he said. The old axiom about first impressions is real in the competitive market for bar taps.
I cant put a price tag on it; its priceless, Fischer said of the shutdowns effects.
Sean Wilson at Fullsteam Brewery faces a similar problem as his Durham brewery tries to expand to South Carolina. He cant get labels approved to sell some of the brewerys more eye-catching beers outside North Carolina.
The prospects look a little bleak for us to get anything creative or unusual out there to this market, said Wilson, who is also president of the N.C. Brewers Guild. It hurts us in the long run as we look to roll out with our brand strategy. Its not the best showcase of what we do when we enter a new market and show off some of the real creative beers we do.
The federal process for label approval takes about a month as regulators and brewers go back and forth about what the label needs to say to describe the beer recipe. But even a quick end to the shutdown wont solve the problem. Applications from brewerys across the nation have piled up for two weeks.
Expecting delays in Washington once the government reopens, Sumit Vohra, CEO at Lonerider Brewing in Raleigh, said he has postponed brewing any new beers until next year. We dont want to brew another one until they are back online, he said. Theres a shelf life to beer.
At the moment, Lonerider is awaiting approval for one new beer that Vohra hoped to debut soon. Its a Belgian witbier called Trickshot, made in collaboration with Trophy Brewing in Raleigh. We brewed the beer. Its sitting in tanks, but we cant sell it outside the brewery, he said.
The shutdown shows just how the federal government closely regulates the beer industry, something out of the view of most drinkers. I think thats where the consumers arent aware just how much is involved, said Wilson, who said his hurdles are small potatoes compared to the fact that theres people out there ... not working.
And small brewers, a generally apolitical crowd, are caught in the political crosshairs. I dont care for political postures, said Arnold at Fortnight. When it drags on for weeks and affects small companies, I think its really upsetting that these people dont get together and talk to resolve this.
What Im tasting
Before the winter beers hit shelves soon, Im still enjoying the pumpkin beers. Two new big offerings drew my attention in recent days: Blue Mountain Barrel Houses Spooky, an imperial chocolate pumpkin ale aged in bourbon barrels, and Southern Tiers Warlock, an imperial pumpkin stout.
The Spooky is more delicate than it sounds with intricate bourbon notes complimenting the subtle spices. Its antithesis is the Warlock, a sweet, dark beer with an overwhelming but intriguing spice character. The Spooky is 8.2 percent at about $12. The Warlock is 8.6 percent ABV at about $9.
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