No beer? Federal shutdown hurts La. craft brewers

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Bayou Teche Brewing is owened by brothers, from left, Byron Knott, Karlos Knott and Dorsey Knott.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Bayou Teche Brewing is owened by brothers, from left, Byron Knott, Karlos Knott and Dorsey Knott.

Shutdown affects state’s craft brewers

The beer is brewed and ready to go.

But it will sit in kegs, unavailable for drinking, because of the federal government shutdown, Karlos Knott said Wednesday.

Knott is one of Louisiana’s craft brewers waiting for permission from an obscure federal agency whose employees were sent home, indefinitely and without pay, after Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., could not agree on how to fund the government.

“If it really goes for a few more weeks,” Knott said of the shutdown, “then my winter seasonal comes out in the spring.”

Knott is president of Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville and his new Belgian-style stout Loup Garou — don’t pronounce the “P” — is ready to be shipped in November, as promised, but for approval of the bottle’s label by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Called TTB by the brewers, the U.S. Treasury Department regulatory agency authorizes new breweries, processes, recipes and labels for new brews.

The shutdown began Oct. 1 after a group of House Republicans blocked a budget deal in a last-ditch effort to stop funding for President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The closing isn’t expected to have much effect on industry giants such as MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch, according to The Associated Press.

They can continue to produce existing products as usual.

But the shutdown poses problems for the far smaller craft brewers, who build their businesses by introducing new and unique-tasting seasonal products, said Jay D. Ducote, the Baton Rouge blogger who the state hired to write the tour guide for the Louisiana Brewery Trail that leads tourists on visits to the state’s beer-making operations.

“As long as the government is shut down, there won’t be a way for brewers to get those labels approved and moving forward, which means they can’t release any new beers to retail establishments. They’ll be able to keep rolling on their already-approved products, but new beers will be delayed or postponed,” Ducote wrote Wednesday in an email responding to questions.

On the north shore, Abita Brewing Company also is awaiting approval of a label for a new beer.

“Right now we’re in pretty good shape but if it goes on much longer, we will have a delay for some of our items,” said David Blossman, president of the Abita Springs company.

Blossman says printers can’t be hired until the labels are sanctioned by TTB.

“You send in the art work, what the label looks like,” Blossman said. “They’re looking for certain things, like the government warning, font size and color contrast for the warning. They’re looking for something objectionable to them.”

Usually the process only takes a few weeks and working through the issues requires a back and forth that takes a few more days, Blossman said.

Knott, of Bayou Teche Brewing, said the process slowed down considerably starting in March with an earlier congressional stalemate.

In the budget sequestration of 2013 approximately $85.4 billion was automatically cut from the federal budget over several years. He was told by TTB officials to allow plenty of time because of the backlog created by the sequestration.

“I submitted this label months ago,” Knott said. “I thought we had plenty of time.”

Craft brewers around the country have told AP that TTB was taking as long as 75 days to approve applications before the shutdown last week. Now they’re bracing for even longer waits.

“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, based in Boulder, Colo., which represents more than 1,900 U.S. breweries. At least three new craft breweries are poised to open in Louisiana during the coming months.

Mudbug Brewery in Thibodaux and Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport already received their federal permits and are awaiting their state permissions.

Gnarly Barley Brewing in Hammond installed its beer tanks on Wednesday, according to its Facebook page.

But 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.

Brenner told the AP that politicians don’t seem to care how much damage they’re causing.

“For them it’s just another day,” Brenner said. “They are still getting paid, but I’m losing $8,000 a month.”

Carrie Antlfinger and Todd Richmond of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

See Associated Press video here.