Tapped Out: Government Shuts Down Your Happy Hour Plans

Oct 11, 2013

Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg.

It’s Friday and 5:00 is just on the horizon, but your libation options may be limited as a result of the government shutdown. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), responsible for issuing permits for breweries, wineries, and distilleries, has closed up shop until Congress and the White House find a way forward.

“Would-be brewers could be feeling the pinch for a while to come,” Jon Terbush wrote in The Week. “With a backlog of paperwork awaiting TTB employees once they return to work, booze sellers may have to wait months to get their production back to normal.”

Mike Brenner is one brewer feeling shutdown pain. He has hoped to open his Milwaukee craft brewery by December, but now his tasting room application is on hold and his product label paperwork is in limbo. “My dream—this is six years in the marking—is to open this brewery,” Brenner told the Associated Press. “I've been working so hard, and I find all these great investors. And now I can't get started because people are fighting over this or that in Washington.”

Brenner anticipates he will lose $8,000 a month for every month his opening is delayed. “This is something people don't mess around with,” he said. “Even in a bad economy, people drink beer.”

For seasonal beer enthusiasts anticipating a nice Christmas ale this winter, holiday revelry may be in short supply. Terbush explained, “While seasonal brews often come out earlier than expected — really, pumpkin beer in July? — processing delays could cause breweries to miss out on sales, or force them to rush the beers to market before they go stale.”

The shutdown is particularly bad beer news for states like Minnesota that have seen exploding growth of craft breweries—and the jobs that come with them—since the so-called “Surly Bill” was passed. As reported on during the Free Enterprise Tour this summer, the Surly Bill reversed an antiquated Prohibition-era law that was on the books in Minnesota that forbid breweries from serving their beer on premises. In the year following the bill's 2011 passage, the number of breweries in Minnesota shot up by 81%, the second fastest increase of any state, according to the American Brewers Association. Now, that growth is at a standstill as craft brewers—along with the rest of the country—watches and waits for Congress to act.

The good news is brewers aren’t dispirited. Over 600 breweries are gathered at the Great American Beer Festival going on this weekend in Denver, Colorado. Featured at the event? None other than Surly Brewing.

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