October 15, 2013

Maine’s breweries simmer during shutdown

Local beer businesses are waiting for federal approvals to move ahead with their plans.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Nathan Sanborn, who along with his wife, Heather, are owners of the Rising Tide Brewery in Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Kai Adams, co-founder of Sebago Brewing Company.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Germain said Allagash is probably equipped to absorb any losses in the short term.

“The majority of our volume is stuff we’ve made for years,” she said. “If we can’t ship the (unlabeled beer) for another month, it’s not the end of the world.”

The backlog has not just affected label certifications; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau also approves permits for new breweries, a process than can take two to three months.

Will Fisher, who is awaiting federal approval for a new brewery in Portland called Austin Street, said he and his business partners were all set to submit their application on Oct. 1. Now, they have to wait.

“We’ll continue to do other things to get ready, but you don’t want to go too long without having revenue come in,” he said.

Another new Portland brewer, Bissell Brothers, received its federal approval just before the shutdown.

Co-owner Peter Jensen Bissell said his brewery still does not have label approval yet, but he’s not concerned about that.

“We planned on serving only Maine to start anyway,” he said. “It’s too bad, though. You’ve got this one industry that’s actually doing well and that’s who suffers.”

The government shutdown, now into its third week, has affected other food and drink industries as well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scaled back most of its food safety responsibilities, including inspections of food manufacturers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has continued to inspect meat, poultry and egg producers but has furloughed more than 1,000 other food safety workers across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has halted activities such as detection and tracking of food-borne illnesses and outbreaks.

While those agencies are high-profile and their cutbacks were largely anticipated, craft brewery owners say they were caught off-guard by the shutdown of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, an industry trade group, has spoken out against the economic impact to brewers.

“In this era of smaller government, the (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) has shrank staff for several years, and there had been a significant wait for services already,” group spokesman Paul Gatza said in a statement. “We were on a track to have between 400 and 550 brewery openings in 2013. More than one craft brewery per day on average was opening. Those new jobs and future tax revenues are on hold indefinitely.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:


Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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