The beer is still flowing at Indeed Brewing Company’s taproom in northeast Minneapolis, but even its IPAs and imperial stouts can’t escape the effects of the partial government shutdown.
The company’s plans for a new brewhouse and taproom in Milwaukee are stuck in limbo. Until a shuttered federal agency approves its license, Indeed “can’t brew a drop of beer” at the new location.
“This has thrown a little bit of a wrench [into] that,” Indeed co-founder Thomas Whisenand said of plans to open this summer. “It is frustrating to think that something completely out of our control can do that to us.”
The ongoing partial government shutdown is threatening everything from food stamps to federal worker salaries and TSA screenings. But it’s also affecting craft brewers looking to bring new brews to consumers. Across the nation, and here in Minnesota, brewers and other alcohol producers are already dealing with delays and uncertainty because of the temporary closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal agency that regulates interstate alcohol sales.
In addition to a freeze in federal licenses for new or expanding breweries like Indeed, TTB’s temporary closure creates a dry spell for producers who need new labels approved to sell libations across state lines.
A spokesman for TTB was not available to comment on the process or potential delays because of the shutdown.
But with thousands of breweries across the country filing requests, the backlog is already expected to extend to late February or March, according to Paul Gatza, director of the Colorado-based Brewers Association. The delays could push back new spring and summer releases, hurting revenue in the months ahead.
In Minnesota, where the thriving craft beer industry’s estimated annual economic impact is roughly $2 billion, the uncertainty has some brewers on edge and making plans in case there’s no breakthrough. About 10 percent of the 144 members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild distribute outside the state and must get federal approval for new labels.
“At this point, we are submitting a lot of new products for the spring and summer … but no one is currently reviewing them,” said Brad Glynn, whose Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater will need approval for a kettle-soured fruit beer slated to be released this spring. “I’m sure they’re accumulating a hell of a backlog.”
Some breweries got the bulk of their upcoming releases approved before the stalemate began. Fair State Brewing Cooperative in northeast Minneapolis submitted a “blitz” of label requests in December in hopes of getting ahead of a potential shutdown delay.
“Right now we’re OK, but certainly if this drags on for an extremely long time it could be very problematic for us,” Fair State co-founder Evan Sallee said.
Given the uncertainty, some major brewers in the region are already making adjustments and contingency plans, too. Iowa-based Toppling Goliath, which sells its beers in Minnesota, is waiting on approval for six or seven new designs, with more set to be submitted soon.
“Everything has different lead times, so it’s definitely causing a cascading effect for a lot of decisions now,” marketing director Sarah Hedlund said.
Even a short delay dampens plans for brewers, who try to cater to beer drinkers’ demand for new varieties during the thirst-inducing summer months.
“There may be a lull in that, and the beer industry could be a little less interesting until the shutdown lifts,” Gatza said, adding that approvals for unusual ingredients could also be held up.
Even beers that aren’t new might be affected. Indeed, which is looking to triple its distribution this year to more than 9,000 cases of beer, is still waiting on approval for a revamped label for its Shenanigans Summer Ale.
Whisenand worries that if there isn’t a resolution in the near future, the effects could ripple into next year.
“We’re starting to get into 2020 [planning] now, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like when people [at TTB] get back to work,” he said.
Some brewers may gamble on going ahead with production, knowing they may have to pull cans off the shelves if the wording needs to be reworked.
Glynn said that given the brewery’s long track record of working with the agency, “if we feel strongly that the label is pretty clear cut and simple and should be approved, we might roll the dice and go ahead.”
Whisenand, meanwhile, is choosing to look at the situation as a pint half full. If the situation is resolved quickly, Indeed’s plans to expand in Wisconsin will remain on track, pending federal approval.
“We’re hoping it ends soon,” he said. “If it doesn’t, I’m going to start to sweat a little bit.”