Though the partial government shutdown has come to an end for now, Baton Rouge breweries and distilleries say they expect to feel the impact for months.
The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is in charge of, among other things, approving labels on new alcoholic beverages and granting licensing to new breweries. Because many Louisiana companies sell outside of the state, most rely on it for new releases.
With the agency closed during the 35-day shutdown, brewers and distillers were left in a bind. Many had new releases ready to go—but no approval to sell them.
While the office is now up and running again, the lengthy hiatus means a backup of applications for licenses and labeling.
For Southern Craft Brewing Company, that means canceling a release altogether.
“We actually had three new beers coming up: a Mardi Gras release beer and then two more later in the spring,” says owner Joe Picou. “We are going to try and wait on the two others, but we won’t be able to do the Mardi Gras one now.”
One of the city’s upcoming breweries, Rally Cap Brewing Company, has an entirely different concern—opening altogether. The company is still waiting on licensing to brew beer, a step founder Kevin Whalen never imagined would take this long. He expects the opening of his brewery to be delayed.
“I think that what we’re really feeling right now is just a huge sense of frustration,” Whalen says. “Opening a brewery has been a long, hard process. As we’re finally getting near the finish line, it’s really frustrating that our project we’ve worked so hard for can be impacted by a political squabble. It’s maddening.”
Johnny Ver Planck, owner of distillery Three Roll Estate (formerly known as Cane Lane Distilling Co.) had four products prepared for a spring release. Instead, he says he expects a delay of three to four months before his labels are approved—even though the process would normally only take a few days. He says he can only hope the licenses are approved in time for late summer.
This wait time is potentially “catastrophic” for breweries, Picou says, because they rely on small-batch and limited-edition releases to keep consumers interested.
“Consumers want to see variety and new beers, so it is part of our business model to have seasonal and limited-release beers that we put out there for the ever-changing tastes,” Picou says. “This definitely has an impact on the bottom line. When you count on releasing new beers throughout the year, that’s new product that you are supposed to be getting revenue and profit on.”
Ver Planck also estimates up to 25% of Three Roll Estate’s revenue will be in jeopardy in face of government shutdown delays. “It could crush us pretty well,” he says.