Government Shutdown Hits Local Breweries
As the partial government shutdown enters its 21st day, local breweries are feeling the impacts.
Since the federal Alcohol and Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau closed because of the shutdown, breweries can’t receive approval on 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. in Luzerne County and Wallenpaupack Brewing Co. in Wayne County are among breweries impacted.
A canning line was recently installed at Susquehanna in Jenkins Twp. and its Vice President Fred Maier said the shutdown is slowing down the process to get their labels approved.
The brewery purchased equipment for the canning line, a filler, last year from Ontario’s largest Canadian-owned brewery Brick Brewing Co.
Maier said they hope to have canned beer in the market by Memorial Day. The filler will work but they don’t have approval yet for can labels, he said.
‘Dead in the water’
“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. The brewery’s contract customers are in the same boat, he said.
“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 they’re in jeopardy for anything new they want to put out in the market because all labels need to be approved. That includes any new beers for upcoming seasons.
“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.
New beers affected
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 tap room at Wallenpaupack Brewing Co. 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.
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.
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