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McHenry County breweries feel effect of government shutdown

Government impasse reaches agency that regulates brewing industry

Holzlager Brewery co-owners Charles Moran of Lake in the Hills (right) and Travis Slepcevich of Woodstock talk about the hurdles they face with a government shutdown affecting the progress of their new brewery Thursday in Woodstock.
Holzlager Brewery co-owners Charles Moran of Lake in the Hills (right) and Travis Slepcevich of Woodstock talk about the hurdles they face with a government shutdown affecting the progress of their new brewery Thursday in Woodstock.

Local breweries are feeling the impact of the federal government shutdown.

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, and, as of Saturday, became the longest partial shutdown in U.S. history.

President Donald Trump is edging closer to declaring a national emergency to pay for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall as pressure mounts to end the impasse.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates the brewing industry, is one of the affected agencies. The bureau is charged with reviewing and approving new beers, beers with exotic or nontraditional ingredients and issuing licenses that allow new breweries to begin operations.

“Them being closed due to the shutdown is a fairly big deal,” said Kate Marisic, federal affairs manager for the Brewers Association, a national nonprofit that aims to “promote and protect” American craft brewers. “They had a pretty great turnaround process ... the longer the shutdown goes on, the bigger deal it will be.”

Once the bureau reopens, there likely will be a backlog of applications that could cause delays in both the release of new beers and issuance of “brewers notices,” which allow breweries to sell beer to the public, she said.

In 2018, the agency approved an average of 94 beer labels daily. “Labels” refers to kegs, beers that are packaged and sold, and growlers, in some circumstances. The TBB also approved more than 2,000 new formulas, Marisic said.

Some local breweries are expressing concern about the situation.

John Koziol, co-owner of ShadowView Brewing in Woodstock, said the bar and restaurant portion of the business at 2400 Lakeshore Drive opened in mid-December, and the brewery is almost complete.

But whether it will be able to open when it’s finished isn’t yet clear.

“We just don’t know how long the shutdown will be or what effect it will have on our application process,” Koziol said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a somewhat ‘wait and see’ period.”

Holzlager Brewing Company hopes to open in Woodstock by May, but the date is a “moving target” because of the shutdown, owners said.

Charles Moran, Travis Slepcevich and Mario Cortez are in the process of renovating the future home of the brewing company in the former Bohn’s Ace Hardware, 150 S. Eastwood Drive.

“The shutdown is definitely having an impact, but we are optimistic is will be resolved quickly,” Moran said. “We are pushing through on the things we can control and hoping our elected officials can put their heads together and get a deal done.”

The trio plan to brew and offer bar service onsite but also plan to sell the Holzlager product in stores. Slepcevich has an engineering background and has been a home brewer for more than a decade.

“This was kind of the passion,” he said. “The hobby that turned into something more.”

The name “Holzlager” is a nod to the city. “Holz” is the German word for “Wood” and “Lager” means “Stock.”

“We were aiming for Woodstock from the very beginning,” Moran said.

The company plans to sell 60 percent to 75 percent of its product to stores, but will be open to the public and potentially will host a home-brew club.

“We look at this as a manufacturing process,” Slepcevich said. “We want to build relationships and accounts in the area, and we want the brewery and taproom to be highly communal. We want it to be interactive with the customers.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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