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Could the Government Shutdown Harm Boise Breweries?

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The headlines about the ongoing government shutdown, precipitated by a disagreement between Congress and the Trump administration over funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, are dire: "Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country" (The New York Times), "The government shutdown and overflowing toilets force Joshua Tree to close" (CNN).

The shutdown has restricted access to public spaces, yanked the drawstrings on healthcare for Native Americans and kept essential government employees at work without pay, but there's another, smaller way it will affect Americans generally (and local brewers specifically): It has slammed on the brakes at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which approves beer and wine labels for beverages crossing state lines, and approves labels for new breweries.

On Dec. 21, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB for short) announced on its website that it had suspended processing applications for new labels for alcoholic beverages, writing it had delayed "all non-excepted TTB operations, and no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries, including emails, telephone calls, facsimiles or other communications." According to Food & Wine, that could mean breweries' releases of new beers will be delayed, as well.

ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO TAX AND TRADE BUREAU
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
There are scores of breweries big and small in Idaho, and if the shutdown is prolonged, it will likely have a dramatic impact on larger operations that send their beers to neighboring states. For now, the closure of TTB will chiefly affect new, smaller breweries.

"The current state of a government shutdown should not have a significant impact on operating Idaho breweries. However, breweries in planning are affected if they are still waiting for their federal licensing," wrote Sheila Francis, executive director of Idaho Brewers United, in an email (emphasis her own).



One of those planned breweries is Bench House Brewing Company, which secured a conditional use permit in December and expects to have a lease by the end of January. Relatively new and with a modest projected operating size, Bench House has a pedigree: Its head brewer, Derek Brown, has brewed at Laughing Dog and Woodland Empire. But getting a taste of Brown's craft beers may be delayed if the shutdown continues to hinder the permitting process through TTB.

"It hasn't affected us yet," wrote Bench House Marketing Manager Christy Brown in a direct message over social media. "It definitely will once we get our lease because it'll take longer for us to get our permits."

It is unlikely the shutdown will last through January, but on Jan. 2, President Donald Trump rejected a deal from congressional Democrats that would spend an additional $2.5 billion on border security, saying it didn't meet his demand of $5 billion for the construction of a wall. Every day a deal isn't reached is one more day in which the TTB—and brewers around the country—will be stuck in limbo.