Grand Rapids

Local brewers, distillers stuck amid shutdown

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One trait best describes the way craft breweries and distilleries have to tackle business:

“You need to be nimble in our industry," Founders Brewing Co. co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens said. “We have a lot of different beers we bring out and we have seasonality to our beers."

But an agile industry is being hampered by a clumsy federal government amid the partial shutdown.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which checks labels for accuracy and approves formulas for new products, is among the closed federal agencies. Without it completing checks, the distribution of new products and seasonal brews is being delayed.

“The consumer is poised and ready for this product, but then all of the sudden we have a standstill because of the government shutdown, and now we can't hit that schedule," Stevens said Thursday, the 20th day of the shutdown. “And if we miss that schedule, it won't come back.”

Sheila Cunningham, director of administrative operations at New Holland Brewery, says the brewer has about 10 craft beers or spirits awaiting approval by the TTB.  

"The TTB holds a lot of cards," she said.

It's the same story for craft spirits.

“These label things, it's really going to throw off our production schedule," Jon O'Connor, co-founder of Long Road Distillery in Grand Rapids, said.

O’Connor says the longer the shutdown continues, the longer the backlog of requests gets.

"It's went from a 10-day processing time up to 35 days in the course of the last couple weeks here," O’Connor said.

And the longer the backlog, the more missed customer opportunities.

"Having something that's limited, having something that's special, keeps them coming back," O'Connor said. "Coming back to the tasting room, coming back to their favorite retailer. It's hard to quantify that, but we know it's real."

Brewers and distillers say it's too early to tell when the shutdown will start to affect their bottom lines. Stevens said Founders and other large craft brewers can weather the storm better than smaller breweries.

Assuming, of course, that elected officials in Washington can soon settle their differences.

"At the end of the day," Stevens said, "you hope that cooler heads prevail."

But as of Thursday, there didn't appear to be a deal on the horizon.


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