People looking forward to drinking locally brewed craft beer may have to wait a bit longer, and they can thank the federal government shutdown for the delay.
The closure is affecting the small but growing brewing industry in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Five production craft breweries are in the works in the two counties; none are open now. A craft brewery produces beer in smaller volumes using techniques and ingredients that enhance, rather than lighten, flavor.
To open, a brewery requires federal approval, and the branch of the Treasury Department — the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB — that awards permits is no longer processing applications.
“With the shutdown, we don’t know how things are going to go,” said Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, who has been working with Bradenton’s Motorworks Brewing Co. on its permits.
Motorworks hoped to open around Thanksgiving, but its permit application is now stuck in Washington, Aubuchon said Thursday.
The nationwide explosion of craft brewing had the TTB overworked before the shutdown, Aubuchon said. He said the agency’s workload has likely quadrupled in recent years as hundreds of new breweries release thousands of new beers.
In addition to permits for new breweries, the TTB also approves beer labels. That process has been placed on hold, so any brewery wanting to release a new brew must wait until the impasse in Washington is resolved.
Green Room Brewing in Jacksonville Beach, for example, has been waiting 10 weeks for a new beer to be approved, Aubuchon said.
The beer is sitting in tanks, and the company can’t package it, he said.
Craft breweries constantly release new beers to keep beer fans interested, and the delay throws off brewing and release schedules, which have to be planned months in advance.
“You’ve got these crazy breweries that are making all this stuff,” said Aubuchon, whose nonprofit trade group represents about 50 craft brewers in the Sunshine State.
To make matters worse, Aubuchon confirmed reports that a single federal agent is responsible for all label approvals.
The shutdown’s effect is mainly an inconvenience for established breweries, Aubuchon said, but for brewers hoping to open, the delay is much more frustrating.
“It’s extremely tough if you’re starting a new business,” he said.
Michael Wagner, owner and brewer at The Little Giant Brewery in Bradenton, wrote in an email that his brewery is finishing up its federal permit online, but expects it to “sit in limbo while politics in Congress plays out.”
Wagner writes: “This is really poor timing on Congress’ part for everyone in craft brewing considering the backlog of federal permits it is creating and the massive amount of label approvals stacking up on empty desks at TTB.”
Not all local breweries are affected. Mike Bisaha, CEO of Sarasota's Big Top Brewing Co., said in an email that his in-progress brewery has already received its federal permits, and while the shutdown could slow new label approval, "it is not a concern to us."
The TTB shutdown also affects wineries and distilleries.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.