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Shutdown Hurts Vermont's Craft Brewers

The toll the federal shutdown is taking on the economy includes harm to small businesses.

Here in Vermont, breweries and distilleries face delays in opening or in getting federal approval for new products.

From Brattleboro to the Northeast Kingdom craft breweries and distilleries are feeling the impact of the shutdown of a unit of the Treasury Department known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB.

Ray McNeil, a pioneer of the craft beer business, needs permission to start brewing again at his brewpub in Brattleboro, as well as a beer wholesaler’s permit.

Up in Hardwick, Caledonia Spirits is waiting for the TTB to approve its recipe for a barrel-aged gin. It is the TTB that issues the “brewer’s notice” that beer-makers need before they can start brewing beer.

Joe Lemnah is a fledgling craft brewer who has borrowed close to $300,000 to start the Burlington Beer Company. He’s in a holding pattern until he gets his brewer’s notice. 

“You have to get a lease before you can even file for notice and you have to get insurance and there’s all these upfront costs that you just have to eat for those months before you can even get opened. Now, because of this government shutdown, I don’t know when I’ll be able to sell, let alone make the first batch of beer,” said Lemnah.

Lemnah learned to brew at the American Brewers Guild school in Middlebury. He’s been planning to run his new brewery in Williston, in part, as a community-supported brewery where people pay an annual fee and get new beer every month. But he can’t start selling memberships until that federal brewer’s notice arrives. 

“I guess I’m so stressed with trying to get the brewery open that I only have so much energy to be angry at the government with right now,” Lemnah said.

Over at the Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, owner Matt Nadeau is also upset. 

“That’s what I’m in the business for is to sell beer. I’m not in the business to sit on beer and wait for labels,” said Nadeau. “My taxes are already paying to fund that office, so why is that office shut down?”

Nadeau is waiting for the TTB to approve a label for his new Russian imperial stout, which has been sitting in oak bourbon barrels. He has some 800 gallons that he can’t bottle until the feds send him a Certificate of Label Approval, which ironically is referred to as a COLA. The delay is stressing Nadeau out because the Russian stout is made to be consumed during the cold weather months. 

“You know there’s windows of release that you want to hit for certain style beers and a Russian imperial stout is a very rich, dark beer, typically more of a winter beer than a spring or a summer beer,” said Nadeau. “So, we’ve got to hit a certain window to sell this beer and we may end up missing that window.”

Also affected by the government shutdown is Citizen Cider in Essex, which is planning a move and expansion. The hard cider maker was up for a $60,000 loan from the Small Business Administration and needs federal approval to start production at its new location in Burlington. Between five and ten new jobs are expected to be created by the expansion over the next year.

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