Seasonal beer distribution ailing in Philly region due to federal shutdown

Dock Street Brewery Vice President Marilyn Candeloro (left) and brewer Mark Russell crack a beer. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dock Street Brewery Vice President Marilyn Candeloro (left) and brewer Mark Russell crack a beer. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Some area breweries that distribute beer across state lines and through retailers are facing delays or canceling scheduled beer launches because of the partial government shutdown.

Nearing its 22nd day, the shutdown affects the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The bureau is responsible for approving the font and placement of things such as the surgeon general’s warning on a bottle of beer, said Ted Zeller, general counsel to the Pennsylvania Brewers Association.  

While brewers can still apply for the labels they need to sell their product across state lines or in retail stores, those applications aren’t being processed, Zeller said.

New breweries are unable to get the required federal approval either.   

“Even though there’s not short-term impacts, because of the [bureau] shutdown being in its infancy, there is going to be significant impact felt by brewers not being able to get beer to market because of the full fact that the government hasn’t approved its label,” Zeller said.

As of Dec. 21, the agency charged with these labels had received more than 192,000 applications for 2018 brews.

But breweries whose identity is centered on innovative offerings are already feeling the impact.

On any given month, Dock Street Brewery in West Philadelphia submits label applications for four to five new beers, said Marilyn Candeloro, the brewery’s vice president.

Dock Street Brewery in West Philadelphia is known for creating new craft beers frequently. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We’re constantly brewing new beers with new ingredients, exploring different ingredients that may not have been used in beer, and we cannot do any of that without TTB approval,” Candeloro said.

Dock Street also has an application pending for a new brewery, and Candeloro said she doesn’t know how the shutdown will affect plans to open a new location on Washington Avenue.

In New Jersey, you can forget about sipping a new beer honoring Women’s History Month from Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company.

That March launch has been canceled, said Jamie Queli, brewery CEO and president of the New Jersey Brewers Association. But she said she’s lucky that she doesn’t have multiple beers waiting for label approval as other breweries do.

“But it’s definitely going to decrease my sales,” said Queli, adding that two other beers will not be coming out on time.

Not only is there a question of when the bureau will resume vetting applications, but there’s concern about the type of backlog brewers will face when the agency reopens.

In light of the shutdown, Queli said she decided not to risk putting in the application for the beer saluting Women’s History Month.

“The window just kind of kept being pushed, and we weren’t comfortable moving forward with that big of an investment if we were never going to get it out,” Queli said.

Since it opened in 2014, Forgotten Boardwalk has expanded its distribution into the Philadelphia region. The operation remains modest with 10 employees total, but canceling a beer line means tens of thousands of dollars lost in potential sales, Queli said.

In Delaware, Dover’s Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company has six planned beers waiting for label approvals.

Logistics coordinator Mike Morton said the company also has an international shipment of 1,440 cases of beer on hold because it needs to be inspected by the bureau.  

Becky Ryman owns Wallenpaupack Brewing Company in Hawley, Pennsylvania, which employs 34 people.

At the time of the shutdown, Wallenpaupack had three label applications waiting for bureau approval. Ryman said the company is preparing to submit four additional label applications.

Should the shutdown last another few weeks, Ryman could have an additional four labels in need of approval, bringing her to a total of 11 beers that can’t be distributed for sales.

“Right now we’re making determinations on how we’re going to package, if it’s going to be for in- house for taproom only or if we’re going to be able to get through this and get beer out to the market,” she said.

According to the National Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers, Pennsylvania produced the greatest number of barrels of craft beer — more than 3 million — in 2017.

While Delaware and New Jersey don’t produce as many barrels, the two states have seen an uptick in craft breweries since 2011.

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