It has been 21 days since the White House shut the government down because President Trump could not and cannot wrangle $5.7 billion for a border wall from House Democrats. The effects of the shutdown are being felt from sea to shining sea. Many government workers without paychecks are still expected to clock in, like at the IRS. The Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park are being ransacked because rangers aren't there to protect them. Coast Guard families are encouraged to hold garage sales to make up for lost income.
Perhaps less urgent, but no less shitty, is the walloping small alcohol companies are taking as the shutdown continues.
One of the agencies currently closed is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB. When it's operating, the TTB is in charge of approving new beverage labels for breweries and distilleries, among other responsibilities. Breweries and distilleries need new labels before they can market and sell new products. Now, those applications are piling up at the TTB with no one handling them, according to the Brewers Association. Even after the government reopens, the TTB will have to play catch-up on the backlog.
Manatawny Still Works in Pennsylvania was planning to release three new spirits in time for Valentine's Day. "One of the reasons we have the following we do is because people love the special stuff we do, so we rely on this as a business to give people new, exciting whiskeys that they're not used to that they don't know exist," the distillery's director of operations Max Pfeffer told the Reading Eagle. He said the shutdown could stall those plans.
In Virginia, Filibuster Distillery's product manager Jesse Puckett said labels for new products had been submitted to the TTB, but were not yet approved or denied. "It's kind of holding us up as far as our product line goes," he told the local news outlet WHSV.
At least liquor doesn't go bad if it sits on the shelf for awhile. Beer, on the other hand, has an expiration date. Small craft outlets across the country-from City Barrel Brewing in Missouri to Night Shift Brewing in Massachusetts-are worried their supply will go to waste. Transmitter Brewing in Queens, New York, wanted to move to a larger location, but cannot because of the shutdown. “We’re a small business and it could potentially ruin us. You can’t pay rent in two places without increasing revenue, and there’s no way to increase revenue if you can’t make beer," Transmitter founder Rob Kolb told the New York Times.
The Times reports that more breweries in multiple states have been forced to delay plans to expand business or hire new employees for fear the shutdown won't end anytime soon.
Craft brewing in the States is a $76 billion industry, in part because craft breweries are constantly churning out cool, innovative beers that we love to drink. With the TTB hobbled, that churn is now a drizzle. Craft alcohol operations are a small but not insignificant part of the overall United States economy, which is estimated to be losing $1.2 billion each week the shutdown persists. And this is on top of Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, which already made things tougher on U.S. alcohol makers.
Beer and booze aren't fundamental to a healthy democracy. Brewers and distillers don't protect our safety and security. But Americans like drinking alcohol, and they like supporting local business. This is just another way the shutdown twists the knife.
On a positive note, Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City is offering furloughed government employees a discount on beer and food until the shutdown ends. A beer won't solve any financial woes and anxiety about the future, but definitely won't hurt.