Pearl St. Brewery sweats on federal government shutdown - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Pearl St. Brewery sweats on federal government shutdown

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- To beer drinkers, a beer bottle's label might be an afterthought.
But breweries big and small all have to get governmental approval for their labels before packaged bottles of beer can be sold.

"All packaging is checked for truth," said Pearl Street Brewery owner Joe Katchever. "They want you to say what's in a bottle on the label."

The government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a branch of the internal revenue service, is charged with approving all labels.

But the TTB is now shut down, along with much of the federal government, after the President and Senate Democrats failed to agree on a 2014 operating budget with House Republicans.

Republicans have demanded that any measure to keep the government running at 2013 funding levels include a couple conservative policy sweeteners -- like a delay of the individual mandate contained in the President's signature health care law or a repeal of a tax on medical devices.

While the government is shut down, the TTB is not answering its phones. Katchever said he has not been able to reach anyone at the TTB since the 2013 funding levels expired last Monday at midnight.

The Pearl Street Brewery, and other breweries hoping to apply for the approval of new beer labels, are now out of luck.

Katchever said Pearl Street and other small, "craft" beer breweries, often churn out a substantial number of seasonal beers. He said delays in label approval can result in monetary loss if they hinder brewers from being able to put their beers on store shelves during the correct seasons.

"It's coming at an inopportune time," Katchever said. "This is going to cause a problem if (lawmakers) don't get it figured out pretty soon."

Katchever said Pearl Street Brewery also has one label before the TTB pending approval. He said that label was submitted two months ago and, under normal circumstances, would have likely been approved already.

Katchever said Pearl Street will continue to produce bottles of beer using labels the TTB has previously approved. He also said beers awaiting label approval to be bottled can still be sold on tap.

But Katchever said he's skeptical that the end of the current government shutdown will produce speedy results in the label approval process.

He said TTB employees typically seemed very busy in previous communications he's had with them.

So Katchever said it would not surprise him if the backlog of labels accumulating during the shutdown ends up causing lengthy delays once the government re-opens.

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