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The government shutdown is beginning to hurt the craft beer industry

January 10, 2019
Photo | File
Photo | File
While Wormtown develops new beer flavors constantly, its staple creation remains the Be Hoppy IPA.

If the government shutdown drags on much longer, Central Massachusetts breweries and beermakers nationwide could suffer the consequences.

Congress has not been able to agree on a government funding package that President Donald Trump would sign off on, and that has caused a quarter of the government and 800,000 federal workers to either stop work or continue without pay.

One of those departments affected by the lapse in funding is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which doles out brewers permits on the federal level and approves labeling for new beers.

TTB approval is required if beers are distributed out of the state, and Jack's Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham could be severely impacted.

According to founder Jack Hendler, the beermaker along with sister brewery Springdale Beer submit 50 labels a year.

"There are plenty of labels we're creating right now and we plan to submit them in a few weeks," he said. "Now we have no idea how long it's going to take."

The brewery seeks TTB approval for all beers, even if they aren't initially planned for distribution.

Massachusetts still makes up at least two-thirds of the company's market, but the other seven states in which it distributes are vastly important to business and new innovations.

"We wouldn't be running a business without them," Hendler said.

Although tight-lipped about plans, Hendler said the brewery is also awaiting word on an amended brewers license.

"A lot of people have invested a lot of money and they're waiting for a license," he said.

The licensing process with TTB can take months, and the shutdown will eventually lead to a large backlog of brewers waiting for a permit, according to Paul Wengender, founder of Worcester's Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 when Trump said he wouldn't sign a funding bill without $5.7 billion for a wall on the Mexican border. That's a frustrating situation for the industry, Wengender said.

"What an embarrassment," Wengender said. "This is all about winning an argument and the whole 'For the People' concept is lost."

Greater Good should be in good shape "as long as (the shutdown) doesn't drag on for another six weeks," Wengender said.

Similarly, Wormtown Brewery isn't sounding the alarm quite yet. The Worcester beermaker is planning an April release of an IPA titled Don't Worry, and those sales in distribution states New Hampshire and Rhode Island could be on hold while TTB is closed.

If a brewery is distributing across state lines, that TTB approval is a must have. However, state permits cover beer sold in the state, according to David Fields, managing partner of the brewery.

"If we can't sell Don't Worry in New Hampshire and Rhode Island for two or three weeks, it's not going to make of break us," the Massachusetts-centric brewery manager said.

With a model sans-distribution that calls beer lovers to Charlton for a pilgrimage of sorts, Tree House Brewing Co. isn't affected at all by the shutdown, said co-founder Dean Rohan.

The popular brewery has built its model on offering beer exclusively at the Charlton brewery, which attracts beer drinkers from across the country to the small town.

"With our customers coming to us, our beer doesn't cross state lines - our customers do," he said.

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