Government shutdown leaves lasting impacts on local breweries

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — Despite the government shutdown ending, breweries in Virginia and across the U.S> will continue to feel the impacts for months to come.

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In order to sell beer at all, breweries must first get approval from the government.

That label approval is meant for any new beers, whether sold in kegs or cans or bottles.

But if you first keg a beer, you need a separate approval to sell it in bottles or cans.

"We had approval to sell in kegs because we had done a previous draft only version of it," said Mark Fulton, Director of Brewery Operations at Reason Beer in Charlottesville. "But for this version, we had planned to bottle it. Unfortunately, we had not gotten the approval for the labels for the bottles prior to the shutdown."

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, was one of the agencies closed due to the shutdown. The TTB is responsible for collecting federal excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms and ammunition.

The bureau is also responsible for looking at tobacco permitting and alcohol permitting, labeling, and marketing requirements

As agencies get back up and running after the shutdown, backlogs of permit requests means there are 80 label-less cases of beer sitting in a fridge for Reason Beer.

Thankfully, that beer is a stout and it will age well, unlike other styles of beer.

"If we were faced with a similar thing at that time and that beer was an India Pale Ale, we likely would have not bottled it or had to destroy the beer," said Fulton.

For Charlottesville breweries like Reason and Champion, it's not all about waiting on labels for beer already brewed. It's now about future beer and the delays in government approving labels.

"They are starting with beer labels that were submitted on Dec. 13 right now," said Hunter Smith, the owner of Champion Brewing. "I think it's somewhere in the tens of thousands of labels that they have to get through going back to early December before they can get to reviewing new ones."

That backlog means there will be a lack of brand new beers coming out in the foreseeable future for the next several months.

"There's no sense in spending money on time and label design until we know there's a way to get it approved," added Smith.

The lack of permit approval also affected distilleries and wineries, but they don't face the shelf life problem that breweries have to reconcile.