WASHINGTON, Jan 17, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A Washington brewery worried about the fate of 40 barrels of apricot-infused India pale ale it calls “The Precious One” has sued the Trump administration, saying the government shutdown has prevented it from shipping the seasonal beer.
Craft brewer Atlas Brew Works filed the suit against Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker late Tuesday as the partial shutdown was in its fourth week, hobbling a wide range of government operations, including its crucial — for the brewing industry — beer labeling authority.
“The initial 40 barrels of THE PRECIOUS ONE are ready for consumption. The beer is perishable after 120 days, and seasonal,” Atlas said in the lawsuit.
The beer, planned for kegs to be sold outside the US capital in the spring, can’t be kept in fermenting tanks indefinitely. Atlas said it has to begin production of its next seasonal offering, a summer ale.
US laws prevent the shipping of many products, including alcohol, from one state to another without regulatory approval.
In the case of beer, producers need approval of a “keg collar,” essentially a brand and contents label, from the US Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
But the TTB, deemed non-essential during the shutdown, has stopped reviewing keg collars, and Atlas can’t move its IPA.
Atlas sued on the grounds that its free speech rights are being violated — in that the application of the company’s label to the keg is an act of speech denied indefinitely because of the shutdown, the brewery’s lawyer Alan Gura said.
“Right now it would take an act of Congress to allow this act of speech,” he told AFP.
Atlas is not the only brewery affected. Craft beer makers around the country, many small operations who do regular seasonal beer releases, all need permission to ship their kegs into other states.
Atlas says it already cans a major part of its “The Precious One” production and does not have the ability or market to put the rest into cans.
In any case, the keg market is more lucrative for many craft brewers.
The label issue “is a real problem for craft brewers,” said Gura.
“Nobody knows when this shutdown is going to end.”