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Brewery sues U.S. government over sud-sidelining shutdown

A brewery is suing the U.S. government over its shutdown citing a violation of the First Amendment. Getty Images File

WASHINGTON D.C. – Stuck with a lot of craft beer they can’t legally sell, Washington’s Atlas Brew Works has decided to brew up a court fight with the U.S. government.

In a lawsuit filed this week, the brewery alleges its First Amendment right to free speech is being denied because of the current government shutdown.

“The labels we create for our products are speech, they are how we communicate with our consumers,” explained Atlas CEO Justin Cox in an email to Global News.

The problem for Atlas, and thousands of other craft breweries, is that those labels have to be approved by a government agency before new beers can be packaged and sold.

WATCH: Stories from U.S. workers impacted by the partial government shutdown

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Stories from U.S. workers impacted by the partial government shutdown – Jan 12, 2019

But the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, is currently closed by the shutdown, and is not processing new applications.

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“The government is requiring us to obtain an unobtainable license before we speak,” said Cox. “That is a violation of our First Amendment rights.”

In this case, the beer in question is an apricot IPA called The Precious One. Atlas currently has around 4,500 litres of it sitting in a fermentation tank.

The Precious One was supposed to hit bars and store shelves in early February, but without label approval, it can’t leave the tank. Even worse, the product only has a 120-day lifespan before it goes bad.

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“We are not trying to reopen the government with this suit, just want permission from the court to sell our beer,” said Cox.

Atlas is asking the courts to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent the Department of Justice from prosecuting Atlas for using an unapproved label on its kegs.

Even when the shutdown ends, Atlas worries its product will be kept off the market for months, because of a huge backlog of approval requests with the TTB that could take six to eight weeks to clear.

Before launching his lawsuit, Cox told Global News that if he can’t get his latest beer to market, he may have no choice but to send those carefully crafted suds down the drain.

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“We might run into a situation where we have either a couple of weeks left of that beer being good to go to market, or maybe not at all,” he said.

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