Every beer you order has a unique name and, whether you’re sipping it from a bottle, can or keg, a label that has been approved by both the state and federal government. But the federal government shutdown now entering its fourth week has closed down the TTB — the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — as well. No one at the federal level is approving new beer labels.
So what does that mean for Bay Area brewers and beer lovers — and for SF Beer Week, which kicks off Feb. 1? The brew extravaganza’s 900 beer-related events typically showcase a wide array of new and collaboration beers.
There’s good news and bad news.
“Every state is a little different, says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association’s professional division.” Under certain circumstances, some states allow local beer to be sold without federal label approval, usually as long as it doesn’t leave the state.”
Happily, California qualifies — with a caveat: Local beer “can be sold within our border, at least on draft,” says California Craft Beer Association executive director Tom McCormick.
Officials at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control — California’s TTB counterpart — agree. As long as brewers comply with two regulations that require registering the beer and filing a disclosure of ingredients, they can sell their beer on draft within the state. Half Moon Bay Brewing brewmaster James Costa says his collaboration beer, for example, is unaffected by the shutdown. It’s on draft and only distributed within California.
It’s a different story for bottled and canned beer, though. Without federal label approval, those beers can’t be sold. Rich Norgrove, owner of Bear Republic Brewing, recently bought a new canning line and was set to debut his popular Racer 5 in cans.
“We’re in a tough spot,” he told me, “because we can’t move forward with this new package. Luckily, my marketing team pushed me to submit label approvals for 2019 early, so we have label approval for our other new beers for about the first three months. But after that, it’s up in the air.”
Shaun O’Sullivan, co-owner and brewer at 21st Amendment Brewery, says his brewery received label approval for his SF Beer Week collaboration beer shortly before the TTB closed up shop on Dec. 22, so that beer can be released on schedule. But he’s heard of other brewers who weren’t so lucky.
O’Sullivan finds the whole thing bizarre. “You never think how these things affect you directly — until they do,” he says. “It’s very strange.”
Craft beer expert Jay R. Brooks co-founded SF Beer Week 10 years ago. Contact him at BrooksOnBeer@gmail.com.
The government shutdown, SF Beer Week and you