Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

D.C. shutdown puts crimp in Tampa Bay area craft beer business

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The federal government shutdown has closed the Statue of Liberty, the panda cam at the National Zoo and now this: craft beer.

Tampa Bay area bars and restaurants are pouring suds as usual, but the shutdown has meant an obscure agency has suspended approval of new breweries, recipes and labels.

In the Tampa Bay area, the closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, could have big consequences. One of the nation's epicenters of craft brewing innovation, Tampa Bay is poised to welcome a number of new breweries and a raft of seasonal brews from the area's established brewers. The openings may be postponed and the seasonal beers scuttled.

Mike Harting, co-owner of BellaBrava in St. Petersburg and owner of downtown's upcoming 3 Daughters Brewing, has already been affected.

"I had a call a week ago Tuesday with Judy, a nice lady with the TTB who is processing my Brewer's Notice application. She said jokingly, 'If I don't get furloughed, I'll get it done.' "

The next time he called, he got a recording. He anticipated he would have had final approval last week. "If all goes well, we should be able to begin brewing in the middle of November. If this goes on two more weeks, there is a very good chance that is the thing that will hold us up from opening."

Geiger Powell, media and marketing director of Cigar City Brewing, says that the Tampa brewery had several label approvals outstanding with the TTB.

"Thankfully for us, none of the beers are critical and we don't need to cancel plans," he said. "It could have been a lot more catastrophic. We had a lot more stuff earlier in the year that would have been affected by this."

Fine, but for local beer drinkers, this means some of Cigar City's holiday seasonal beers may never see a glass.

For Tom Williams, co-owner of St. Petersburg Brewing set to open at 538 and 544 First Ave. N in November, the timing couldn't be worse. He applied for his Brewer's Notice application Aug. 20.

"It's supposed to take 82 days, which would mean mid November. I'm not sure if the agency is going to pick up and do double time (once the government reopens). I can't really say."

Tempers are flaring at breweries around the country since the Oct. 1 shutdown.

Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, told the Associated Press, "One could think of this shutdown as basically stopping business indefinitely for anyone who didn't have certain paperwork in place back in mid August."

Industry giants like Anheuser-Busch may not be affected. It's new and existing small craft brewers that will feel the pinch.

Williams, the St. Petersburg Brewery co-owner, manages to see a little humor in the TTB closure. "It's ironic. Until a year ago, you couldn't brew because of the local government in St. Petersburg," he said. "You'd never think it would be the federal government that would affect small beer."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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