If you head to the website of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (or TTB) right now, a message tells you: “TTB IS CLOSED.”
That’s bad news for craft beer brewers.
The TTB is one arm of the U.S. government that is crippled right now amidst President Trump’s ongoing partial government shutdown, which on Friday tied for the longest shutdown ever at 21 days.
Among the TTB’s duties: approving new labels for beer and liquor. During the shutdown, the agency cannot process labels. As a result, Washington, D.C., craft brewer Atlas Brew Works can’t fully distribute its new apricot I.P.A., “The Precious One.”
The springtime brew, which was originally planned for Feb. 1 release, is “sitting in our tank now with nowhere to go because our label is in limbo with the TTB,” says Atlas Brew Works CEO Justin Cox.
Atlas is permitted to sell the new beer within its own taproom on site, but taproom sales represent only 5% of its sales, Cox says. The rest is distributed from the brewery. Atlas does have approval for the canned portion of “The Precious One” I.P.A., but not for the draft portion, which is 60% of the supply Atlas made of its new brew.
“That backs up our entire production schedule,” Cox adds. “So the opportunity cost of what’s sitting in that tank, we’re not able to send it out and we’re not able to fill that tank back up with another beer.”
And Atlas Brew Works isn’t the only brewer feeling the hit of the shutdown.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee can’t release one of its new brews for the same reason (TTB label approval) as Atlas in D.C. The New York Times reports that Alementary Brewing in Hackensack, N.J., can’t get federal approval to begin brewing in its new warehouse because the application is sitting on a desk in a government office.
“Being based in D.C., we’re right in the thick of this, and all our neighbors in the community are really frustrated and getting to the point of anger with this,” Cox says. “There’s a lot of worry, a lot of uncertainty, and it’s really starting to trickle down past just government employees and contractors to ancillary businesses such as coffee shops around government buildings and then trickling all the way down to us as a craft brewery.”