Government shutdown brews headaches for Baltimore beer makers

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore brewers waiting for the government’s approval of a new seasonal ale or the OK on new labels will have to wait until the federal shutdown is over.

The Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which lies within the Department of the Treasury, has been closed for business since most government workers have been furloughed.

For Hugh Sisson, owner of Heavy Seas Beer in Halethorpe, the shutdown's timing has postponed the implementation of a new $3 million piece of equipment that packages and labels the beer. The new machine requires a different size label, and all new labels must be approved by the federal bureau.

Sisson said that he'll be able to continue using his old equipment until the new labels are approved.

Of more concern, he said, was the backlog of requests the bureau will face once it does re-open.
“I’m scared that's what’s going to happen now,” Sisson said. “It’s going to be constipated when they reopen.”

So far, the shutdown is causing mostly headaches for Baltimore brewers, but if the bureau doesn't get back to business soon, those headaches could worsen.

"It's a nuisance at this point," said Brewer's Art owner Volker Stewart. "It’s keeping me from filing some paperwork to get our brands assigned to wholesalers in Pennsylvania."

Stewart said that he still has plenty of Brewer's Art beer to ship to existing markets.

Not only isn't the bureau processing requests, it's not accepting them at all. The bureau’s on-line request system has been deactivated, according to J. Hollis Albert III, a co-owner of Peabody Heights Brewery, a cooperative venture in the Abell neighborhood.

"I have three recipes I want to unload," Albert said. "Now I can't even get online."

Established brewers don't need formula approval for most standard brews, but they do for recipes involving herbs, spices, honey or fruit -- the stuff of the seasonal and specialty beers that are calling cards for regional brewers.

Albert said he expects most brewers know which new recipes are safe bets for approval and can start production on them now and assume that approval will come when the shutdown is over.

Albert said that the shutdown, which has so far caused him paperwork headaches, would have the most impact on start-up brewers, who have not received approval to start production at all.



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