The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau won’t be approving new labels until the shutdown is over.

By Mike Pomranz
December 27, 2018
(C) Joseph Gruber / Blue Marble Photography/Getty Images

Though America’s beer laws have become increasingly lax over the years, alcohol is still one of the more heavily-regulated products in the country, and selling booze comes with plenty of hoops to continually jump through. For instance, every new product label has to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). According to its website, as of December 21, the TTB had received an incredible 192,279 of these “COLA applications” to date. Even without a shutdown, the average processing time on beer labels is listed as 11 calendar days. But during a shutdown, all these services are put on hold — and as a result, the release of new beers could be delayed as well.

“TTB IS CLOSED,” the title of its official website now reads. Visitors are advised that the “TTB will suspend all non-excepted TTB operations, and no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries, including emails, telephone calls, facsimiles, or other communications.” Additionally, the TTB states that “submissions will not be reviewed or approved until appropriations are enacted,” meaning even labels that have already been submitted will now sit in limbo.

In the past, label approvals wouldn’t necessarily have been as big of a deal. Not that long ago, brewers would have a core lineup of beers and maybe a few seasonal or rotating offerings. Once these labels were approved, they could be reused and that was that. But nowadays, more and more brewers are consistently creating new beers which need approval before being released. As a result, though well-known brews like, say, Yuengling Lager are good to go, breweries who are known for putting out a new, unique beer every week could run into some problems if the shutdown drags on.

As Brewbound points out, the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association posted advice for brewers during the brief shutdown back in January. “During the [2013] government shutdown, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was shut down and did not approve labels or process permits,” the Brewers Association wrote. “Until we hear otherwise we assume that this will be the case during the current shutdown. Breweries should be prepared for the labeling and permit process to take longer than estimated. Once the government is open again there could be a backlog. Breweries should plan accordingly.”

Overall, the good news is that a TTB shutdown doesn’t mean we’ll see a shortage of beer. Shelves will still be stocked. But a delay in the release of new beers? That’s a serious possibility.

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