Show-Down Slow-Down: The government shutdown ripple effect reaches Rhody beer

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Beer is a many-splendored and (responsibly) intoxicating thing, but navigating the beer business is a sobering experience. The beer/wine/distilled spirits industry is controlled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which was established in 2003 when it was separated from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The TTB issues permits to producers and wholesalers and approves labels and ads. In Brew Your Business: The Ultimate Craft Beer Playbook (an essential read for amateur and pro brewers), authors Karen McGrath and Regina Luttrell note that the sundry processes “can be slowed by many factors, including, but not limited to, a backlog of applications … or other specific reasons. The permit process may take weeks, months or years.” The molasses-paced permit process can also get derailed by a 35-day government shutdown, which ended on January 25.

While the Build-That-Wall/Steel-Slats/Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It-Faceoff was underway, we asked some 401 brewers for specifics re: how their businesses were affected. Jennifer Brinton, owner of Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island, said, “We have one new label hung up in the queue. Our distillery notice is ready, but we can’t submit [it], so an entire new business will be delayed. The most brutal part is when you’re making plans, you need scenarios A-to-E, because we have no clue when the government will open for business, nor do we know how long it will take for them to catch up and resume ‘normalcy.’”

We have some bad news about the return to “normalcy”: On January 31, the TTB site posted that the average label processing time (calendar days) for beer labels was 52 days, and they were working on new applications that were received on December 13 – nine days before the shutdown began. And as of January 28, 9,966 COLA (certificate of label approval/exemption) applications had been received – in 2019 alone! Hurry up and wait!

Shaidzon Beer Company had a different problem. Josh Letourneau and Chip Samson collaborated with the crew from the Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, Maine, on Ode to Aegir, a Norwegian farmhouse ale. But the shutdown prevented the beer from being distributed to Novare Res because the label approval was pending.

Nick Garrison, the owner of Foolproof Brewing Company, said, “We have a few labels in the works, including one that we would ideally [have] submitted to the TTB [two weeks ago]. We’re concerned but not panicking yet – at least we can release these beers in our home state without federal approval.”

The TTB imbroglio may resume on February 15 (check your fave news sites for the latest musings and fumings). And, yes, the shutdown has larger ramifications in The Big Picture (TSA and food inspections, f’rinstance). But this is the “Got Beer?” column, dammit, and we’re hoping that our dedicated local beermakers can get back to business-as-usual ASAP!

Okay, let’s get to some good beer news! Armando DeDona, the miracle worker at Long Live Beerworks, shared the latest word on the pending move to his magnificent new brew palace: “We’re at the home stretch of buildout, but we are still waiting on final inspections before we can call the big move. Equipment should be fully online and ready to go any day now. We’re currently building our team to support the bigger space, which will include one additional production brewer and a few more taproom staff. And we’re taking over the Boiler House right next door, which will serve as our dedicated barrel-aging facility (and extra storage never hurts). In regard to the TTB, ironically we did get approval on our license transfer, but the shutdown occurred before the official Brewer’s Notice [which greenlights a commercial brewery] was issued. Great timing, for sure. We’re staying optimistic that the paperwork will work itself out soon. In the meantime, we’re pumping out new and reissued beers in the current space. It’s definitely a crazy time of year, and we’re excited to see how we grow.”

In our previous column, we noted the evolution of 84 Tavern on Canal into 84 Aleworks Brewing & Tavern. And now Norey’s, a superb restaurant in Newport (156 Broadway), widely renowned for its top-notch beer selection, is also morphing into the brewpub business. Owner Tyler Cullen will be making his own beers in collaboration with veteran New England brewers. The tanks are in place, and Tyler was hoping for a February debut, but the usual new-brewery snags, coupled with the natural gas outage in the city, has set him back just a bit. We’ll have more details on the endeavor down the road.

And this just in, seconds before we were ready to hit “send” on this rack o’ words:

Narragansett Beer announced the BuyRI Tour: “In 2019, we want to buy every Rhode Islander a ’Gansett – you’ve earned it!” Mark Hellendrung and his crew will be hosting events in each of the state’s 39 cities and towns – in alphabetical order. Party-goers will receive a free ‘Gansett (the first 50 folks will also score a pint glass). The initial bashes are on Friday, Februrary 8 at the Blue Water Grille in Barrington and the 15th at Thames Waterside in Bristol. Check the Neighborhood Watch at narragansettbeer.com for updates throughout the year, neighbor!

For more beer news, check Lou’s blog, bottlescansclaphands.wordpress.com, or follow @BottlesCansRI.

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