And now the government is taking away our beer
We should have noticed when a week went by without a new brewery opening. But until Lagunitas’ Tony McGee let loose with a few profanity-laden tweets, the truth seemed too awful to bear. On Oct. 1, the government shutdown brought an end to Chicago’s steady stream of new brews and brewers.
As the Associated Press explains, the government must approve all new recipes, labels and breweries before we can go guzzling. When the government — specifically the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — is shut down, the delightful parade of one-off and seasonal beers stops. The shutdown has Berghoff Brewing in a holding pattern. The approval process usually takes around 45 days, so Ben Minkoff has no idea when the recipes he submitted weeks ago will surface.
“It’s going to put a hold on all of our projects.” Minkoff says. He had planned to launch a new specialty beer in January, but no longer expects to hit the target date. Though Berghoff doesn’t have any money tied up in the launch, if the shutdown lasts long enough it may push back the brewery’s spring seasonal, shortening the window for sales. “It’s not costing us money right now, but it halts all of our plans to make more money.”
Still, Minkoff counts his blessings. For new breweries waiting to open and start recouping investment costs, the shutdown could be catastrophic. “That would drastically hurt those breweries that need to be coming out with new products,” he says. “That is a major issue for them.”
Another major issue looms: When the Tax and Trade Bureau does return, the backlog of requests may overwhelm the agency. “The longer it goes, the more stuff that’s going to pile up,” says David Bowers, a controller at Half Acre Brewing. Meantime, the Ravenswood brewery may shy away from inventive recipes. “It does kind of put us in a little bit of a tricky position, as far as anything that isn’t a standard ingredient,” he says. “If it’s any unique ingredient we pretty much have to step back from that and wait until the government’s back up and running.”
We can’t help but think this shutdown may have been avoided if it had been scheduled for a few months before. Good luck to any politician who chooses to stand between the citizenry and pumpkin beers.
Watch McGee dish out advice on Chicago’s craft brew scene to Off Color Brewing founder John Laffler in our video below:
ABOVE: Ben Minkoff poses with Berghoff Brewing’s revamped line of beers. Good thing those labels got approved in the spring. Photo by Sara Mays