TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City is home to a burgeoning number of microbreweries, and recently earned national buzz as an “emerging beer town.”
But operating a new establishment became a bit more difficult this year, thanks partisan bickering in Washington, D.C.
The owners of Brewery Terra Firma, in Garfield Township, one of the newer local breweries, was just about to release its new honey oat pumpkin ale when the government closed amid a fight first over the Affordable Care Act and now about the federal debt ceiling.
The brewery can’t distribute the ale to other sellers until the regulatory agency that approves labels and recipes is back on track.
The disruption of operations at a lesser-known arm of the federal Treasury — the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — is hurting local breweries.
New businesses suffer the most setbacks because they’re trying to license recipes and labels to get their new brews out to the public.
“It’s really hard to put a dollar amount on (potential losses),” said Terra Firma taproom manager Matt Heffron. “It’s lost sales in terms of wholesale opportunities, which is a double hit for us. Not only is a product going out the door, but every release is a little bit of marketing for us, too.”
Michael Rizik, owner and head brewer at Beggars Brewery, a new Traverse City brewery that’s not yet open, said the government shutdown brought his business to a standstill.
“We’re still new, and all of our recipes require approval before they’re allowed to be distributed to the public. Our application for a few of our recipes is in limbo right now because no one can process the request,” Rizik said.
Established brewers already have approved labels and licenses. They’re also more aware of getting licensed and submit their seasonal concoctions long before they’re released.
“I would not want to be one of those small guys trying to open up in town right now,” said Leif Kolt, the events, branding and marketing coordinator at Right Brain Brewery. “Whether you’re not opened yet or just opened, it would be horrible.
Right Brain Brewery was not directly affected by the shutdown, Kolt said. But the brewery can’t make its award-winning Mangalitsa Pig Porter because the farm that provides the smoked pigs’ heads that makes the porter unique hasn’t received FDA approval for its smoking process this year.
“For some of the breweries in the works that are under construction or getting ready to open, this is a dangerous thing for them because they can’t open until they get their final licenses or continue to the next level,” said Heffron.