Talkin' Government Shutdown Blues

Posted on Jan. 15, 2019, 10:51 a.m.

The great American experiment continues apace. From the days of the Constitutional Convention to today, the whole affair has proven to be an invigorating, if sometimes contentious, exercise in competing viewpoints, positions, arguments, and compromise. It remains the enduring promise, and challenge, of the United States of America.

And while the system is sound in concept, sometimes the real world application breaks down and things grind to a halt. Some call it a crisis, some merely the system at work. Your humble brewery has no interest in adjudicating the arguments that have led to this government shutdown. But we would like to address some of the effects of the impasse.

Of the many federal agencies that are incapacitated for the time being, the one that touches your Mother’s most directly is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Or as it is lovingly known in the beer industry, the TTB. The TTB is a bureau under the aegis of the Department of Treasury charged with regulating and collecting taxes on alcohol production. Yes, beer drinkers, you are not the only one paying taxes on your favorite beverages. Craft breweries, as the solid corporate citizens they are, pay their fair share on every barrel they produce. In addition to collecting those revenues, the TTB is the federal entity that oversees label approval of beers. Once we’ve brewed a beer, performed internal sensory evaluation, nailed down the profile and recipe, and feel we’re ready to package and distribute, one of our next stops is the TTB. Mother’s will submit the proposed label for the beer and after a period of review, will receive the thumbs-up straight from DC. Only then do we place orders with our suppliers for the bottle labels and six-pack carriers that end up on the shelves of your regular craft beer emporium. For the consumer, this approval process is in fact a valuable service: federal label approval ensures accuracy of ABV and ingredients in a beer. For the breweries, it is a legal requirement. While the process is not without its occasional complications and instances of somebody-shoot-me bureaucratic finagling, it is a necessary part of running a business.

Which brings us to the matter at hand for breweries across the country. For the duration of the government shutdown, the TTB is largely unable to function. There will be no review or approval of new beer labels until the impasse is resolved and federal appropriations are reenacted. (Unsurprisingly, they are still able to accept and process tax payments. So it goes.) The practical effect of this for breweries is that if you have been planning a beer for, say, a May release but were awaiting final approval after the third revision of descriptive label copy, your beer is now in limbo. Without that TTB approval you are prohibited from selling and distributing that beer across state lines. With no idea when this situation will be resolved, production breweries like ourselves are finding that carefully planned 2019 beer calendars will likely need some revision. However, there’s no need to panic, babies. The TTB may be shutdown, but that doesn’t mean your Mother’s is.

We’re going to keep brewing, keep tipping back pints, and keep doling out the palm-searing high fives while we wait for that august assembly in Washington D.C. to get their shit together.

The majority of our packaged and distributed beers have pre-established approval and our heading off our loading docks every day. Our core lineup of year rounders, Towhead, Three Blind Mice, Lil’ Helper, Hands Down, Cobra Scare and Nudie Suit, are unaffected by TTB troubles. Our spring rotating release, Trop Top, is on schedule for its February release with no threat of bureaucratic delay. Those of you who count down the days to the annual release of our barrel aged imperial stout, Materfamilias, can rest assured that it is still slated for its scheduled January date. In short, Mother’s has no shortage of beers still bound for your fridge. Tasting room only beers, not intended for distribution, only require state approval and thus are unaffected by the Washington gridlock. You can still count on having a unique experience when you visit your Mother’s at the source.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all sunshine and lollipops around here. The TTB shutdown could very well delay the future release of certain single-barrel Materfamilias bombers, like Rye or Rum Barrel variants. Our Imperial Grind coffee stout release may be affected as well. A couple of beers in our Backyard Beer can series may hit the market later than planned. Future iterations of our hop-focused Nucleation Series may not drop exactly when first intended. While this is certainly troublesome for us, please remember that doesn’t mean we are cutting any of these beers from our 2019 lineup. Our mission is to bring beer lovers an exciting, constantly evolving array of the best beers we make. We can be slowed down, but we cannot be stopped.

That’s the situation in a nutshell. We’re going to keep brewing, keep tipping back pints, and keep doling out the palm-searing high fives while we wait for that august assembly in Washington D.C. to get their shit together. If we had a crystal ball, we’d give it a peep and tell you when, to the day, you could expect your Mother’s new beers to hit shelves. But we got a Magic 8-Ball instead and it keeps saying, ‘Reply Hazy, Try Again.’ So we’re going to enjoy a hazy IPA and check it tomorrow. In the meantime, y’all know the drill: keep your eyes and ears tuned to all the social media for the hottest up-to-the minute information about what Mother’s beers you can expect to fall in love with next.

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