Beer Man

Like Hickenlooper Before Him, Governor Polis Steps Up for Craft Beer

Beer is now on grocery store shelves, but new labels weren't being approved during the shutdown.
Beer is now on grocery store shelves, but new labels weren't being approved during the shutdown. Jonathan Shikes
Jared Polis has a tough act to follow when it comes to craft beer. After all, he replaced the governor who just happens to be the co-founder of Wynkoop Brewing, the first brewpub in Colorado and one of the longest-existing microbreweries in the state. But Polis, who once did a beer bong with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, has so far wasted no time in showing his love for barley, malt, water and hops.

Some time in the next few days, he plans to sign a bill — his first since taking office on January 8 — that will fix problems in a previous bill and make it easier for breweries to store and distribute beer. SB 11, which has passed both legislative houses, folds Colorado's old 3.2 beer licenses into full-strength beer licenses so that brewers and wholesalers won't need both. As Westword wrote in "Colorado's 3.2 May be Light, but It's Packed a Punch," even after doing away with the 3.2 designation, lawmakers had overlooked that crucial detail.

But Polis is upping his beer game even higher. Last Thursday, he appeared at Renegade Brewing with owner Brian O’Connell as well as Karen Hertz, the owner of Holidaily Brewing, a popular gluten-free brewery in Golden, to announce on Facebook Live that he was writing a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking him to allow a temporary waiver on beer-label approvals during the government shutdown.

O'Connell, who had come to the governor's attention the previous week when he testified in favor of SB 11, was delighted. "Obviously, we had a friend in beer in the last governor, so this is great to see," he says. "He has a lot of big issues to deal with, but he's making time for us and paying attention to beer."

Although the shutdown was temporarily halted the next day, it had already lasted more than a month — and the government could close again if Congress and Señor Trump don't come to some sort of compromise.

Renegade Brewing owner Brian O'Connell (left), Governor Polis and Holidaily's Karen Herz last week. - RENEGADE BREWING
Renegade Brewing owner Brian O'Connell (left), Governor Polis and Holidaily's Karen Herz last week.
Renegade Brewing
While it was in effect, however, the agency that approves beer, wine and spirits labels for products that are sold across state lines was closed. That meant breweries all over the country were stuck with beer that they couldn't sell or with plans that they couldn't bring to fruition. Renegade, for example, was hoping to introduce a new hazy IPA called Hazeberry in March — but it still hasn't received label approval for the can.

And although the government is now open, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is going to be battling through a backlog of label approval requests — so Renegade may have to delay its release. It might also limit the beer to Colorado since in-state-only beers don't need federal label approval.

Polis had planned to ask TTB administrator John Manfreda to temporarily waive the label-approval process for breweries as long as they complied with their own state laws and promised to come into compliance with federal requirements after the shutdown ended. Manfreda, however, was furloughed himself because of the shutdown, so Polis said in the video (watch on it his Facebook page) that he'd contact Mnuchin instead.

He no longer needs to do that since the shutdown has temporarily ended, but breweries won't be in the clear until it ends for sure — and the backlog is sorted. "We are in a wait-and-see mode," O'Connell says.

As for Polis, a spokeswoman in his office says the governor "heard about the impact" that the shutdown was having on local craft breweries "and wanted to help raise awareness." 
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes