Yes, the government shutdown could impact your beer selection in Iowa
With the weather cooling down, it’s the perfect time to try out homebrewing. It’s not too hard or costly to get started. Marina Beach/azcentral.com
Now in its third week, the federal government shutdown could impact which craft beers fill Iowa’s liquor store shelves.
A partial government shutdown, fueled by a border wall funding stalemate between Congress and President Donald Trump, caused a hiatus for federal employees deemed “non-essential,” including those in National Parks, NASA and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) — the office responsible for issuing new beer labels.
The TTB website says that "no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries, including emails, telephone calls, facsimiles or other communications. The website and operations will fully resume when appropriations are reenacted.”
What does this mean for the Iowa brewers that produced nearly 80,000 barrels of beer in 2017? And the locals who consumed it? A few things:
- New beers can’t be distributed across state lines without a TTB label, meaning Iowa brewers can’t deliver new products to out-of-state consumers and popular national brands — such as Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada or Boulevard Brewing — can’t get approval to distribute new beers in Iowa.
- Breweries in planning need a federal "brewer’s notice" from the TTB before opening, a letter that some brewers say takes months to receive from an operational government.
So, no, you don’t need to rush out and stock up on Iowa’s award-winning CocO Stout. Beers with an existing label aren’t impacted. But, if West O Beer owner Matt Matthiesen, of West Okoboji, wanted to brew a one-off seasonal and send bottles to neighboring South Dakota, he’d have to wait for approval.
West O, the brewery responsible for CocO Stout, delivers about 15 percent of its annual product to South Dakota and Nebraska, Matthiesen said. Three labels from West O reside in TTB limbo, but Matthiesen said he’s not worried; his team’s a few months ahead of schedule on releasing new beers.
Trump warned last week, however, that the shutdown could last “for years.”
“The government has to work out what they need to work out,” Matthiesen said. “I’m perfectly fine where we’re at. … They will need to get something figured out sooner or later.”
With roughly 7,000 United States breweries, and about 95 in Iowa, industry leaders expect a backlog of approvals to greet TTB employees when offices open again. If the shutdown continues, breweries could see production delays.
And some, like Betsy Duffy of Pella can’t afford to wait much longer. Duffy submitted in November a brewer’s notice for Gezellig Brewing, a taproom planned to open in Newton, and can’t advance on state approvals before jumping the federal hurdle.
“I’ve got the bank knocking on my door now,” Duffy said. “But I’ve got no money coming in on this investment. I wish I could say it was comical. It might be if i didn't care so much about (Gezellig) getting up and going."