Despite the fact that beer is liquid bread, it is in fact regulated at the federal level not by the Food and Drug Administration but by the Department of the Treasury. The Treasury office known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the TTB for short, keeps a tight watch on breweries, going so far as to require every single label to be reviewed and approved in advance. This is a major headache for brewers, particularly for boundary pushers like Lagunitas, which has gotten vetoed on a variety of labels. Most famously, when the brewery proposed to call a beer “Kronik,” the TTB nixed it on the basis that it is a popular reference to marijuana. Thus was born the beer now known as “Censored.”
But with the government shutdown, the TTB will be largely shuttered. It will continue to collect money, but other regulatory activities will cease until the budget impasse is past. You might think brewers would be gleeful to see the widely-hated TTB take one on the chin, but not so: this means that any new beer labels in process will remain stalled on the desk of TTB staff until congress gets its act together.
The shutdown will also delay consideration of new or amended licenses for alcohol producers. Petaluma’s HenHouse Brewing tells me they are worried that an extended shutdown will scuttle their plans to have their major expansion project open by the end of the year. They are hoping to launch a huge expansion, from just 2 barrels per week to around 40. They already have all the label approvals they need, but until the fed approve the changes to their overall license, they are stuck at their old location.
- Sean Scully