MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The federal government shutdown could leave America's craft brewers with a serious hangover.
Stores will still offer plenty of suds. But the shutdown has closed an obscure agency that quietly approves new breweries, recipes and labels, which could create huge delays throughout the rapidly growing craft industry, whose customers expect a constant supply of inventive and seasonal beers.
Mike Brenner is trying to open a craft brewery in Milwaukee by December. His application to include a tasting room is now on hold, as are his plans to file paperwork for four labels over the next few weeks. He expects to lose about $8,000 for every month his opening is delayed.
"My dream, this is six years in the making, is to open this brewery," Brenner said. "I've been working so hard, and I find all these great investors. And now I can't get started because people are fighting over this or that in Washington. ... This is something people don't mess around with. Even in a bad economy, people drink beer."
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, is a little-known arm of the Treasury Department. The agency will continue to process taxes from existing permit holders, but applications for anything new are in limbo.
"One could think of this shutdown as basically stopping business indefinitely for anyone who didn't have certain paperwork in place back in mid-August," said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, which represents more than 1,900 U.S. breweries.
A woman who answered the phone Oct. 2 at TTB's headquarters in Washington abruptly hung up after explaining that the government was shut down. Assistant Administrator Cheri Mitchell did not respond to telephone or email messages.
The shutdown began Oct. 1 after a group of House Republican lawmakers blocked a budget deal in a last-ditch effort to stop funding for President Barack Obama's health care law.