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Beer And Wine Makers Can’t Introduce New Drinks Because Of The Government Shutdown

The agency that approves new beers, wines, and liquors is — you guessed it — closed because of the government shutdown.

Last updated on January 4, 2019, at 10:12 p.m. ET

Posted on January 4, 2019, at 9:30 p.m. ET

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

National parks, federal offices, airport security lines, and soon, booze could be the next casualty in the ongoing partial government shutdown.

Across the country, craft beer makers, which regularly introduce new brews, are busy preparing their seasonal batches for spring, but the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — an agency most people have probably never heard of — is not approving labels for new drinks while the government is closed.

The closure means that until lawmakers can agree on a deal to end the shutdown, don’t expect to see any new varieties on grocery shelves or at your local brewery. And some craft makers are already beginning to feel the pinch.

“We’re all kind of waiting with bated breath to see when we’ll be able to apply for labeling again,” Travis Fritts, co-owner of Old Nation Brewing Company in Williamston, Michigan, told BuzzFeed News.

The closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, commonly known as the TTB, could impact the release of thousands of new beers, wines, and liquors across the country, hitting craft brewers hardest as the government shutdown continues with no end in sight.

TTB / Via ttb.gov

“Brewers ask if there’s anything that can be done, and the answer is, no,” Paul Gatza, director of the professional division for the national Brewers Association told BuzzFeed News.

The TTB acts as the enforcing agency for the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, which regulates alcohol advertising and spirits that are shipped across state lines. The agency also acts as quality control, making sure labels accurately reflect drinks and that there are no product safety issues with wines, beers, or liquors.

Last year, the TTB approved more than 192,000 new labels for various alcoholic beverages.

The majority of the companies impacted by the shutdown are likely to be smaller producers like Fritts’s Old Nation Brewing, whose brand is focused on churning out new beers and flavors throughout the year to draw in new, and loyal, customers.

Fritts said Old Nation Brewing ships beyond its home state to retailers in Ohio, Illinois, and the East Coast, and he’s keeping a nervous eye on when his new beers will get approved.

“Our marketing is really the new beers that we make and put out on the market,” he said. “Right now we have two brands that we’re hoping to release, soon.”

One in particular is a brut IPA that he was hoping to release in early February.

“What this does is it doesn’t really let us rotate from the winter seasonal to the summer seasonal,” Fritts said. “There are breweries that are able to plan six or eight months ahead, but most smaller brewers can’t.”

While a handful of smaller brewers are already starting to feel the impacts of the two-week-old shutdown, brewery owners and industry insiders told BuzzFeed News many are starting to look ahead as the dispute over government funding continues.

“We haven’t seen any direct effects, though we do have several projects in the queue with the TTB that are now at risk, pending how long the shutdown continues,” Doug Campbell, president of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, told BuzzFeed News.

Sue Ogrocki / AP

Addressing reporters in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, President Trump said he was “proud” of his effort to keep the government closed until Congress agrees to fund a southern border wall, a standoff that could continue for months or even years.

While most larger breweries, wineries, and liquor makers plan new beverages months in advance, smaller beer makers often introduce seasonal drinks at a more rapid pace.

“We’re in a different world now where there are a whole lot more breweries out there who are competing for time,” Gatza said. “The beer drinker is looking for what they have not tried before.”

Unable to introduce additional products, smaller breweries could hold off formulating new varieties, stifling innovation.

Still, Fritts points out his brewery has not been financially hit, yet. When he thinks about the impacts of the government shutdown, including federal employees not being paid, he sees the effects on his company as trivial by comparison.

“It’s a bummer and frustrating, but really, kind of minuscule with the other issues that are going on,” he said.

If the shutdown continues, though, that could change.

“It is crucial for us to use these beers as a market test, but, like most brewers, our first concern is to be compliant,” Fritts said. “It’s frustrating that our first roadblock is tough.”

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