Craft beer brewers struggle under government shutdown
BLOOMFIELD — Michael Haseltine and his wife were set to open the state’s latest craft beer brewery in Bristol, probably during April.
All that was left to do was obtain the required federal license, label approval and other paperwork. But that’s not happening anytime soon — thanks to the ongoing federal government shutdown over a proposed border wall.
Although Haseltine applied to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in early December, the little-known federal agency is shuttered and no one even answers the phone.
“The effect of the shutdown is it’s keeping us from opening the doors,” said Haseltine, owner of Better Half Brewing. “There is no one to even talk to.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, on Friday met with brewery owners at the Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield to call attention to the impact the federal shutdown is having on the small and growing businesses.
The brewers all said their new product lines are in limbo because the federal bureau that issues approval for new labels, formulas and other details is closed. Breweries constantly change their products and the federal agency makes sure labels are accurate and standards are met.
Curt Cameron, president of the Hooker Brewery, said his spring line may not be put out because of the shutdown.
“It’s frustrating,” Cameron said. “I shutter to think what the backlog will be when the government reopens. We have two now [awaiting] label approval.”
Cameron and other brewers said the holdup impacts their entire operation, pointing out that the large chrome kettles where beer is made have to remain full until label approval arrives, which means the next beer cannot be brewed.
Blumenthal urged his fellow lawmakers to reopen the government so small business owners like Cameron and Haseltine can continue their work.
“Craft brewers sell great products,” Blumenthal said. “We need to reopen the government so these guys can sell their product.”
Blumenthal noted the large national brewers are better able to withstand delays than smaller craft brewers like Hooker.
“We will keep working to reopen the government,” Blumenthal said, adding Republican Senate leaders should tour a brewery to see the impact of their actions.
Manuel Rodriguez, owner of the Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, said he plans new beers months in advance of offering them to customers. Approval for labels and new formulas is critical, he said.
“This holdup is a major problem,” Rodriguez said.
Blumenthal said Democrats in the House have passed individual bills to open the closed branches of the government without funding for the border wall that President Donald Trump demands.
“The bills are on the floor, let us vote on them and put the president to the test,” Blumenthal said.
Trump has vowed to veto any legislation that does not contain $5.7 billion for some form of a border wall. The president is considering declaring a national emergency and using existing funding reserved for disaster relief or the military to build the wall.
Democrats and others have vowed to challenge that declaration in court, saying there is no crisis that warrants an emergency declaration.