Shutdown Puts Local Breweries In A Bind
As the partial government shutdown enters its 21st day, local breweries are feeling the impact.
Since the federal Alcohol and Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau closed because of the shutdown, breweries can’t receive approval for new labels or certain formulas with recipes featuring ingredients or processes outside of set guidelines. New breweries planning to open also cannot receive permits.
Susquehanna Brewing Co. is among the breweries impacted.
A canning line was installed at the Jenkins Twp. facility and its vice president Fred Maier said the shutdown is slowing down the approval process.
Maier said they hope to have canned beer in the market by Memorial Day.
“We were working on developing the can graphics and now we’re stuck dead in the water,” Maier said. “We were waiting for a label to be approved for 13 days and now because of the government shutdown, we lost a month on production of our cans.”
Maier said they are always operating months ahead of time. They were working on their summer labels and the shutdown pushed them back and slowed them down.
“You can’t have labels produced until they’re approved,” he said. “This slows down a minimum of a dozen beers.”
Becky Ryman, who opened Wallenpaupack Brewing Co. in Wayne County 15 months ago, said everything they had in the pipeline is OK but anything new is in jeopardy.
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“The biggest issue is that once it comes back online, there will be a backlog and a wait time for label approval,” Ryman said. “The backlog could hold us up for months. It will take a really good amount of time for them to catch up and get through the backlog.”
Wallenpaupack Brewing Co.’s beers recently won three awards at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Its Wet Hop Farmhouse Ale, made from ingredients all grown in Pennsylvania, won the Pennsylvania Preferred Legacy Award and had the highest score of any beer across all categories. The brewery also won awards for its India Pale Ale dubbed Largemouth and its First Anniversary Ale.
While the shutdown doesn’t impact beer that already has been established, Ryman said the biggest struggle for the relatively new brewery is that it’s “hard to launch new beers when we’re in this predicament.”
She said it won’t affect the company’s tap room because beer lovers can still try the newest beer there despite the shutdown.
Chris Lampe, president of the Pennsylvania Brewers Association, also is concerned about the backlog that will occur at the already understaffed Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau once the shutdown is over.
As a result of the shutdown, part of the bureau’s website that provides services was closed. No personnel were available to respond to inquiries, including emails and telephone calls.
In the meantime, breweries should prepare for the labeling and permit process to take longer than previously estimated.
According to the website www.ttb.gov that was available during the shutdown, the average wait time for malt beverage labels is 44 days. Last year, 192,279 label applications nationwide were filed through Dec. 21.
When the shutdown is over, Lampe said everybody will be submitting labels and ideas. The longer the shutdown goes on, he said the bureau will need to process an increased number of labels.
Lampe co-owns Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Easton, which is starting its 24th year in business, and he said this is not their first “rodeo” with a shutdown.
Being in one of the most heavily regulated industries, he said he knows that if a government shutdown could be on the horizon that he should get as much submitted as possible but the shutdown is stifling new and interesting ideas from new breweries.
Lampe said the shutdown won’t have a huge effect if it’s short-term but if it’s long-term, it will have a “deleterious” effect on the industry.
“That effect will go beyond breweries. It will affect wholesalers, retailers and consumers who cannot get the products,” Lampe said.
According to the Pennsylvania Brewers Association, Pennsylvania ranks first among states in craft beer production with more than 3.7 million barrels produced in 2017 and it has 282 craft breweries.
Part of the appeal of the craft beer industry for consumers is getting new products and Lampe said “they’re not going to get new and shiny if this continues.”
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