What happens when the government shuts down?
Eddie Leon, co-founder of M.I.A. Beer Company in Doral, says he’s been working for months on a new sangria product.
Yes, sangria. Leon says that the craft-brew wave that helped launched M.I.A in the first place is crashing against choosy millennials who are shifting away from beer to even craftier beverages. Last year’s best-selling item at M.I.A was a hard seltzer, Leon says.
But bar goers won’t be slurping down Leon’s sangria, which for now is simply called M.I.A. Sangria, as long as the U.S. government remains shut down.
That’s because an agency inside the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms controls winery licenses. M.I.A. does not have one yet and cannot get one until the government reopens.
“Our attorneys were ready to upload all the info last month, but we haven’t been able to finish the process,” Leon said. “Right now we don’t know when we’re going to launch the product.”
Based in Washington, D.C., the ATF”s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — known as TTB — approves applications for new beer, wine and spirits businesses. It is also in charge of approving new labels for alcoholic products booze makers hope to ship beyond state lines.
As of Dec. 22, TTB employees have been furloughed. On Wednesday, discussions between Democrats and the Trump administration to end the impasse went nowhere.
The Brewers Association, an industry group representing craft brewers, has advised members to “be prepared for the labeling and permit process to take longer than previously estimated. Also, be aware that when the government is funded again there could be a backlog. Breweries should plan accordingly.”
Jonathan Wakefield, founder of J. Wakefield Brewing in Wynwood, is upset. Known for putting out three-to-four new releases a month, Wakefield said he stands to lose up to tens of thousands of dollars as a result of the shutdown. Currently on hold: a Hefeweizen, two India Pale Ales, two lagers, and a stout.
“Our out-of-state markets — New York, Boston, California — we can’t ship anything [new] there right now,” he said.
As a result, Wakefield said, he will be limited to rolling out the new products in the brewery’s taproom.
There are now more than 240 craft breweries in Florida, according to the Brewer’s Association, combining for a $3 billion economic impact. Leon said he knows of at least four in Miami alone currently opening new locations or brand new operations.
If any of them were waiting for approval, they won’t get a response until TTB is back online, according to TTB’s website.
The same goes for any that applied for a loan. According to the Brewers Association, if a brewery “is in the process of applying for a loan from a bank or credit union they are likely unable to get the information they need from the federal government to process your loan.”
Tony Meneses, a spokesperson for Descarga Brewing Co., which has plans to open in North Miami this year, said the company now fears a backlog of applications will delay their debut.
“We have no idea what will happen,” he said.
Not all local breweries have been impacted. Spokespersons for Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, and Wynwood Brewing Co. and Concrete Beach in Wynwood said they have not yet felt the effects of the work stoppage.
But John Linn, Funky Buddha’s marketing director, said that while it received approval for products it planned to launch in early 2019, if the shutdown drags on, the brewery would likely be affected. Funky Buddha is famous for its unusual flavors, including bacon and jalapeno-flavored brews.
“Depending on how long this lasts it could affect us and all breweries looking to receive these approvals as required by law,” Linn said in an email. “We’re hoping to minimize any impact of course and will be watching things closely as they develop.”
This story has been updated.
Additional reporting by Lisa Gutierrez