Penrose Brewing Company co-founder Tom Korder checks the sparge on a recipe test batch during a recent home brew session. The Geneva, Ill., brewery is currently waiting for formula approvals due to the federal government shutdown and cannot submit new labels for approval.
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:24PM
The partial government shutdown is keeping nearly a half-million federal workers home — but it’s about to affect another part of American life: your beer.
D.C.’s inability to get along will likely affect the variety of new brews available to beer enthusiasts this fall. While stores will still sell existing brews, the federal government shutdown has closed an obscure government agency that approves new breweries, recipes and labels, likely resulting in huge delays in the booming craft industry.
The delay in federal approval is a giant pain for Eric Hobbs, who along with fellow Goose Island alum Tom Korder, plans to open Penrose Brewing in Geneva later this fall.
The shutdown won’t keep Penrose from opening on time in late November, but Hobbs’s plans to file paperwork for bottle labels is completely on hold. Two of Penrose’s signature brew formulas — Navette, a Belgian-inspired black ale, and Devoir, a French-styled saison — are sitting with The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau right now, where no one is working to approve them.
The hold-up will likely mean the brewery won’t be able to offer package sales when Penrose Brewing and Tap House in Geneva opens Thanksgiving week, killing their first stab at holiday sales.
A “frustrated” Hobbs said the shutdown has added “one more thing to worry about” as he plans to open up shop.
“I have a million other things to worry about,” Hobbs said from the tap house site Wednesday. “I don’t want to have to worry about one of the ways I can generate revenue not being available because of (lawmakers’) inability to do their job in a timely manner.”
The “failure to fund the government” may also completely keep Two Brothers first-ever holiday beer from hitting stores and restaurants alike this season.
The yet-unnamed chocolate coconut beer has not been approved by the agency, and the brew’s labeling has yet to roll out, too, said Jason Ebel, co-founder of Two Brothers Brewing.
“It’s kind of a bummer. This comes at a bad time of year. Holiday beers traditionally have (obscure) ingredients and this is the time of year that we look at getting this stuff done,” he said.
If Ebel can’t get the holiday beer brewing in tanks within the next week, it will be too late in the season for buyers and distributors to pick up the brew later on. That will translate into “tens of thousands” in lost revenue to the Aurora-based company, he said.
“We have pre-sold the beer, it has spots saved on shelves and menus,” Ebel said. “Now that we can’t fulfill (the orders), that’s a concern. We’ve promised this beer and we can’t deliver it.”
Ebel said he’s accustomed to operating in the heavily-regulated craft beer industry, but following all of the rules won’t roll out the kegs this time.
“You can follow all of the rules and not be able to do it just because they can’t find a way to fund the government,” he said. “That’s very disappointing.”
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, which represents more than 1,900 American breweries, said the shutdown poses a huge problem for craft brewers, who build their businesses by producing offbeat flavors and introducing new seasonal beers, sometimes as often as every quarter.
Craft brewers around the country said the TTB was taking as long as 75 days to approve applications before the shutdown. Now they’re bracing for even longer waits.
John Barley, president of Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, said that the draft-only brewery is not affected by the shutdown of federal approving offices.
“We’re rolling new beers out, but none that are tied up with this process,” he said.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.