Hops on hold: Breweries in Iowa feeling effects of government shutdown

Water beads sides of beer bottled at the Iowa Brewing Company in southeast Cedar Rapids. The government shutdown has del
Water beads sides of beer bottled at the Iowa Brewing Company in southeast Cedar Rapids. The government shutdown has delayed the brewery’s plans to sell its product in Illinois.(Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

As the government shutdown drags on, the impacts are trickling down to local breweries.

With employees at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau among those furloughed, permits and applications submitted by brewers to the agency are on hold.

Matthew Wolf, co-owner of Iowa Brewing Company, said the Cedar Rapids brewery is ready to sell its beer in Illinois, but the process has stalled as they wait for approval for labels for those beers. Federal approval is required on new beer labels before they can be sold across state lines.

The brewery recently received approval to sell in Illinois, and Wolf said businesses in places like East Dubuque, Galena, Moline and Rock Island have expressed interest in carrying his brand.

He said labels such as those he needs are usually approved in two to three weeks.

Iowa Brewing Company submitted its applications just before Christmas, but he’s now unsure when it will get approval. Even when the agency reopens, there will likely be a backlog.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “There’s a lot of paperwork involved in any product that involves alcohol. ... We also feel for all those employees who we’ve worked with over the years who don’t get a paycheck. That really hurts. We’re just one little sliver of the pain. The bigger pain is on the part of the federal workers. We work with a lot of them, and they do a great job.”

The bureau’s website includes an appropriations lapse notice that no permit or other applications will be reviewed or approved until the shutdown ends and that no personnel will be available to respond to any inquiries, including emails or telephone calls.

That’s frustrating for Betsy Duffy, who has been working to open Gezellig Brewing Company in Newton for about two years. She said she submitted “as built” building plans of the brewery in November. Those plans reflect any changes made during construction and must be approved by the bureau. While she has been told approval of the plans normally takes six months, that process is now on hold.


“We had always said we hoped to open in spring. We’re pretty reliant on loans. The bank doesn’t stop, the interest doesn’t stop,” she said. “Those have to be approved before we can move on to the next step. ... We cannot even contact them to find out where we would have been in the queue.”

Asked if she has a message to President Donald Trump and to Congress, she said the politicians need to remember the Americans the shutdown is impacting.

“Maybe the politicians all need to sit down and have a discussion over a craft beer,” she said. “Beer is bipartisan and shouldn’t be caught up in this silliness.”

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