News & Politics

Craft Beer Company Sues Government Over Shutdown

Much ink has been spilled either bemoaning or defending the government shutdown, including on the “pages” of PJ Media. Outside of the fact that my wife’s commute to her office across the street from the U.S. Capitol is much quicker than it was a few weeks ago,  the whole thing is mostly white noise to me. (I’m sure I deserve criticism for my callous lack of interest.) For the most part, the shutdown has not been able to find a dance partner in my head, until now. And the shutdown is now personal because I’ve discovered that it’s affecting beer distribution. Thankfully, one brave craft beer company (Atlas Brew Works) has sued the government over the shutdown.

In short, the shutdown has closed the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau that regulates the labels that beer companies put on their products. Part of the Treasury Department, the ATTTB regulates a variety of aspects of liquor stores, bars, cigar shops, gun stores, breweries, etc. Basically, if it’s fun, the ATTTB makes sure that there are extra hurdles to jump over before anyone can enjoy that fun. When it comes to beer, the ATTTB ensures that we know how much alcohol is in it and that we can read the Surgeon General’s scolding before we take a drink.

Well, Atlas Brew Works is unable to release their annual special spring beer in kegs because there is no one working at the ATTTB to approve the label. Instead of moving ahead with packaging and distribution, the beer, an apricot IPA named The Precious One, sits in a tank in the brewery. As a rule, problems generally compound problems, and while the beer won’t expire until early May, The Precious One is taking up room in tanks that could be used for the making of other beer. Atlas Brew Works’ ability to produce and distribute beer has been adversely affected by the government shutdown.

Not content to simply wait for our unwieldy government to begin creaking along again, Atlas Brew Works has sued the government. The local website DCist explains that the brewery “has filed a suit against the acting U.S. attorney general, claiming that its inability to sell labeled beer is a violation of its First Amendment rights.”

Speaking to DCist, Atlas’ CEO and founder Justin Cox said, “We see our labels as a form of speech, that’s how we speak to our consumers. We’re unable to exercise that right without approval from the federal government.”

I’m no legal expert, so I have no idea if this is going to work or not, but it’s definitely sparked my interest. No doubt, other breweries have beer that’s wasting away in tanks, too. And as I write this, I’m imagining the many new beer releases that I’m currently missing out on because there’s no one in the government to approve beer labels. I am rooting for Atlas Brew Works.

Frankly, beer companies should be able to put whatever label they want on their products without permission from the government. Maybe Congress should consider closing the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau permanently and allow small business owners to run their business as they see fit. We don’t need a nanny watching over what’s printed on the side of our beer.