SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Ska Brewing Co. wanted to introduce a specialty ale by late winter, but the federal shutdown could keep the 20 kegs of the hardy dark beer in its oak barrel indefinitely.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a regulatory division of the U.S. Treasury Department, has stopped taking applications for new recipes, labels and breweries.
“What I’m really worried about is that there’s going to be a big backlog (of applications),” said Dave Thibodeau, president of the Durango-based Ska, which sells beer in nine states as well as Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Thibodeau estimated the processing time for a label of the specialty ale, named Cru D’Etat, could be 90 days or more once the shutdown is over.
“To get (a label) designed and printed in time and then to go through (the application) process of 90 days – there’s no way we can release it when we want to,” he said.
As a matter of perspective, Thibodeau said the ale has been aging in a special oak tank for the last two years.
“If we have to age it for another month, it’s not going to kill us,” he said.
Thibodeau also feels fortunate that Ska got approval of its other seasonal beers before the federal government closed down.
Troubles caused by the shutdown were the talk of the Great American Beer Festival held last weekend in Denver, said Thibodeau.
“I can see how it’s messing up small brewers across Colorado and the country,” he said, especially startup brewers who need an initial license before they can get into the business.
Brian McEachron, a co-founder of Steamworks Brewing Co., said he heard much of the same talk at the beer convention.
The spillover is that “we could see a real shortage of specialty beers,” said McEachron, whose own beer-making has not been affected, at least not yet.
“We were ahead of the game (in getting seasonal labels approved).”
But McEachron said the shutdown is hurting his business in other ways because Steamworks is losing tourist traffic from the closure of Mesa Verde National Park.
Unlike beer audits and inspections, the federal government has deemed meat inspections to be an essential service.
So Durango’s Sunnyside Meats, for instance, is still getting inspections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Unfortunately, for the two federal inspectors who live in the Durango area, they won’t be paid for their work until the federal government reopens, said Ian Chamberlain, manager of the local meat processing plant.
“This will be the first week they don’t get a paycheck. It’s an interesting situation,” Chamberlain said. “We can’t do anything for them because it would be considered bribery. I know back in the day, people would be bringing them chickens. ‘Here’s something to eat because I know you don’t have any money.’”