The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau must approve all new beers to be sold across state lines.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The federal government shutdown is giving some folks one more reason to cry in their beers: An obscure but powerful arm of the Treasury Department has stopped approving new brews.
All new beers that get bottled or canned to be sold across state lines must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, known in the industry as the TTB. Federal workers must approve the label, as well as the recipe if it uses non-traditional ingredients, which many seasonal beers contain.
While the TTB as stopped approving new recipes and labels, workers there are still collecting brewery taxes.
Any delays in approvals create a "domino effect," said Carla Villa, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Brooklyn Brewery, which has several new labels pending: "It's this one thing that then affects all these other things. We can't launch beers on time, which means our distributors can't sell it, which means our customers can't buy it."
The TTB shutdown is a hot topic of conversation for brewers gathering in Denver this week for the Great American Beer Festival. Among those attending Wednesday was Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Boston-based Samuel Adams.
In an email, Koch said that while it's important to keep the focus on how ordinary people are being hurt by the shutdown, "we will quickly see the downstream effects on businesses and industries. ... In short, new breweries cannot start up and new beers cannot be sold."
The shutdown doesn't affect existing beers, like New Belgium Brewing Cos.' popular Fat Tire, or Anheiser-Busch's Budweiser. But it leaves Fort Collins-based New Belgium awaiting approval of five new labels and three new beers, including a spring seasonal.
"We have a lot of pieces in play, so when things go sideways, that's a problem," New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson said. "We aren't delayed yet, but there will probably be a backlog. Beers that haven't been approved don't get to market."
Simpson said New Belgium worries that a lengthy TTB delay could mean the brewery's fall/winter seasonal offerings will run out without a spring seasonal to replace them. Simpson said the brewery faces having to pay extra to rush labels through the printing process when they're eventually approved.
"We won't rush the beer," he promised.
The growing backlog of TTB approvals will "inevitably" delay offerings from Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Ore., said marketing manager Jason Randles. "The shutdown is affecting us just like everyone else. We have labels that aren't getting approved.
The TTB closure doesn't affect some smaller breweries like Equinox in Fort Collins, which sells only one bottled beer whose label has been previously approved and doesn't change from year to year, said founder Colin Westcott.
"For us, it's just business as normal," he said. "And of course they're continuing to collect taxes."
A woman who answered the phone at the TTB offices Wednesday said no one who was there was permitted to speak with the media.