Long-Term Shutdown Could Create Problems for Craft Brewers

By Beacon Staff

Although there’s no immediate danger of a beer shortage in the Flathead Valley, a long-term government shutdown could create problems for breweries and boutique distilleries in the Flathead Valley.

A long-running closure could affect the release of new and seasonal libations produced by craft breweries like Flathead Lake Brewing Company and distilleries like Glacier Distilling Company.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a little-known arm of the Treasury Department that regulates and taxes the nation’s breweries, wineries and distilleries, is shut down along with the lion’s share of other federal agencies.

Shauna Helfert, administrator of the state Department of Revenue’s liquor control division, explained that craft brewers and distilleries are required to obtain approval from the agency before opening a new brewery, manufacturing new labels, or creating new recipes that use nontraditional ingredients to ensure they comply with state law.

At Flathead Lake Brewing Co., which is both expanding into a new building and poised to release a host of seasonal beers, a prolonged government shutdown would jeopardize business.

“We won’t be immediately affected, but we are concerned with what’s going on,” head brewer Tim Jacoby said. “If this drags on to Christmas we are going to be in trouble.”

The brewery, which will increase production and canning when it moves into the new facility in Bigfork, has a suite of labels for new and seasonal beers ready to submit, but the shutdown has forced them into a holding pattern.

Lauren Oscilowski, of Glacier Distilling, said a protracted government shutdown could delay the approvals process for new recipes and labels, creating a backlog and slowing production.

“We’re hoping they figure things out soon so we can get the ball rolling for summer,” she said.

Although Helfert said the liquor control division is operating during the federal shutdown, she can’t approve licenses for new breweries and distilleries, labels or recipes until the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approves the federal license.

“We are still conducting background checks and going through the customary review process, but we couldn’t issue a license until after they receive a federal permit,” she said. “And right now that’s not happening.

Helfert said she wasn’t aware of any specific breweries or distilleries that were immediately affected by the shutdown.

“Hopefully there will be minimal impact to those who are in the process of applying for a federal permit. I don’t know of anyone right now but I am sure that there are some out there,” she said.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is shut down, and even if its website is not being maintained, both Jacoby and Oscilowski said the federal agency continues to collect taxes on their beer and spirits.

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