How the Partial Government Shut Down Keeps You From Getting That New Beer

How the Partial Government Shut Down Keeps You From Getting That New Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The partial government shutdown of December, 2019 isn’t as all encompassing as other shutdowns of the recent past. Most of the government spending bills have been taken care of, so people don’t worry about this one except for the political fodder they might make of it. However, even a partial shutdown can have big effects if your particular part of the economy is impacted. In this case, there is an effect on beer.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB for short), is part of the Department of the Treasury, and is the controlling entity for craft breweries. If you want to open a brewery, your permit comes from the TTB. If you want to develop an innovative recipe for beer to sell to the public, the TTB is there to determine what the government needs from you to determine taxes and if it is malt beverage. If you want to bottle or can a beer, it’s the TTB that approves the name and the label.

These same factors – new brewery permits, new beer, and new packages (or alterations to any of these) are the driving forces for innovation in beer, and yet the TTB is cold and dark during the partial shut down. Recent years have seen the advent of many online services from TTB, mostly concerning whether or not a brewery needs to do certain things when applying, brewing, expanding, or changing things up. But these online features mostly just help to tell a brewer what they need to do, and perhaps get paperwork to the TTB faster, but they do nothing to move the processes along. The decisions themselves still come down to people.

image credit: Brewer’s Law

And it’s people we don’t have during the shut down. The website will be open, but it won’t be updated. Of course TTB will still be open to take electronic payments and to provide tax bills, file returns and the like; money coming in and bills going out are always accommodated during a shutdown. But there are many things that can’t be done.

Take a look at the TTB website for beer to see all the forms and conditions that have to be met. Most of those require the majority of new brewers (and most experienced brewers) to ask questions and file applications. There are issues dealing with new permits for sure, and no permit applications can accessed during the shut down, nor can personnel answer questions – they just aren’t there to answer the phone.

But more numerous are the issues concerning COLAs (Certificate of Label Approval/Exemption) and formulas for products. There is a online form that can help you decide if the government will need a formula for your new product or perhaps samples to be tested by a laboratory, but it is basically made to be vague and for people to need help. If a beer is determined to need a formula on file, then this must be approved before a batch can be made. A brewery’s schedule can be severely compromised if an approval is stuck in a closed office.

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Therefore, innovation of beer can be stymied during a shut down, either by this loss of new beer recipes approved, or a lack of label approval. Think of how many new beers are being packaged and sold on site and off site each week. Every one of those beers needs to have a name approved, a label approved for text, and label art approved. None of that is being done automatically, it’s all people driven – people who aren’t there right now.

As of Saturday evening (the 22nd), the partial shut down was expected to go well into next week. Congress soon found out after convening Saturday morning that no agreement was to be reached, and they are not scheduled to go into session again until Thursday, the 27th. The TTB COLA website states that labels for malt beverages submitted on December 3rd were due to be considered when the government shut down started, so now we’re dealing with a back log of almost 4 weeks – how many beers might that be?

Politics doesn’t matter in this at all; shutdowns can be seen as anyone’s and everyone’s fault, with all major and minor parties having a hand in shut downs over the years. In the end, the government will be funded, and the arguments will continue for another year. But in the mean time, where are our new beers and breweries?


Walter’s Words of Wisdom – The longer the brewery crawl, the shorter the pours should be.


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