The Government Shutdown and Beer

Eno Sarris, October 16, 2013

There's no real reason to whine. Booze isn't food, it isn't housing, it isn't an essential service. Most established breweries will continue producing their existing beers without much interruption, and even uninspected beer won't put you six feet under, just a bit under the weather maybe. (No methanol produced in the process if you do it even half right.)

But that doesn't mean the government shutdown isn't putting up some roadblocks for brewers.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has closed its doors for now. New craft breweries wanting to start up this winter are in trouble, stuck losing money as they wait for the government to get going again. But even established breweries will see some trouble in the coming month: If your new beer has nontraditional ingredients (chocolate or coffee, for instance), that division has to approve your labels. We know from our work here how exiting coffee and vanilla are to stouts, as adjuncts. And we know that it's about to be stout season.

So it shouldn't be any surprise that some of the more innovative breweries are worried. Ninkasi of Oregon says they have ten labels pending and that they will take a bit of financial hit if those labels aren't approved by early January. But they'll do what they can. Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, tweeted about the shutdown and wasn't so understanding:

“(Expletive) Feds are gonna shut down the already incompetent .Gov while hundreds of small breweries, including us, have labels pending. Nice.” That was followed with: “Wanna regulate? Perform or get out of the way.”

When we talked about the possibility that we are in a new craft beer bubble, one (possibly unsustainable) aspect of the current craft beer boom came to light: the thirst for new beers. The one way that craft beer companies can take advantage of that desire is to do interesting things with seasonal beers. Unfortunately, that's on hold for now. If fall beers crept into summer, we might see winter beers creeping into spring on the other side. Because we know that even when the government gets running again, it'll take them some time to get back up to full steam.

This winter might be the time to catch up on some old favorites.