October 12, 2013 in City

Spokane’s Spokes Mobile Canning bottled up by shutdown

By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

“Everybody is at a standstill at the moment,” said Amanda Mead, right, as she and Abbie Speer of Spokes Mobile Canning talked Friday about the government shutdown. They can and bottle beers for local craft breweries but can’t because the federal government has to approve all labels. They talked about the issue at Manito Tap House.
(Full-size photo)

Approval needed

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an arm of the Treasury Department, has seen its staff furloughed during the federal government shutdown, which means no new alcohol can be legally bottled and labeled.

The owners of Spokes Mobile Canning have a shutdown hangover.

Earlier this year, Abbie Speer and Amanda Mead discovered a gap in Spokane’s craft brew scene: They couldn’t find enough local beer in grocery stores.

So they came up with a solution: Open a mobile canning company, travel to breweries throughout the Inland Northwest and can and bottle their brews on site for delivery to grocery store shelves.

”We started doing a lot of research on it and decided it was a pretty amazing thing,” Mead said, drinking a pint of beer at Manito Tap House on Friday.

Then the hiccups started. First, their machinery delivery was put on hold. And then the government closed. The federal shutdown brought label approval and federal loan applications to a halt.

“It’s been a struggle because everything has been delayed and delayed and delayed,” Mead said.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an arm of the Treasury Department, approves all new labels for wine, beer and hard liquor. But now, a shutdown notice in bright red letters greets visitors to its website.

Though Congress has voted to fund a number of government agencies since the shutdown went into effect, beer doesn’t score high on the priority list.

Mead said label approvals have already been slow to process, taking as long as three months to hear back from the TTB. Now she’s worried that unless brewers submitted their applications before the shutdown began, they’ll be backlogged even further.

“We’re hoping some of them did try to get their stuff ahead of time, but we don’t think they did,” Mead said, laughing. “They are brewers, after all.”

Though Speer and Mead haven’t officially signed any contracts with local brewers, a number of brewers expressed interest in the service, including Airway Heights’ Orlison Brewing. Brewmaster Bernie Düenwald said the worst hasn’t come, but the brewery is expecting to submit new labels for approval this winter.

“We haven’t hit a snag yet,” Düenwald said. “We might. All our current labels are approved but we have some other ones coming up. It depends on how long it lasts.”

In the meantime, the two entrepreneurs are struggling to make up for lost income. Speer quit her job to invest more time in the canning company, and is now working at Iron Goat Brewing.

“I was scrambling to find a job,” Speer said.

The couple are frustrated. They’ve invested almost a year into the company and originally planned to start canning in November. But between equipment delays and the shutdown, even a launch early next year seems an optimistic goal.

“We’re really stuck,” Mead said. “We hope this ends sooner than later.”

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