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LI breweries, distillers could be affected by shutdown

Rich Stabile, 52, of Smithtown, founder and chief

Rich Stabile, 52, of Smithtown, founder and chief executive of Long Island Spirits in his Baiting Hollow distillery, says his company has two new products that need approval by federal inspectors, who are not working because the federal government is shut down. (Oct. 4, 2013) Credit: Heather Walsh

An extended government shutdown could be a buzzkill for Long Island's breweries and distillers.

That's because the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has suspended approving new production permits and bottle labels for breweries, distilleries and wineries.

That could mean delays for new businesses waiting for permits to operate, and stalled sales for any new beers, wines or spirits. Any alcoholic product with new ingredients or a new recipe must have a trade-approved label to be sold.

On Long Island, the headache is most keenly felt among craft breweries, which are known for regularly releasing new, inventive beers. In the past five years the number of breweries on the Island has tripled from five to 15.

"It's stymieing the growth of new beer," said Steve Pominski, owner of Barrage Brewing Co. in Farmingdale. "That definitely affects the consumers who're always looking for something new and different to try."

Pominski, who is still in the process of opening his brewery, said he doesn't expect to be affected because he has received approval on several brews.

But Paul Dlugokencky, owner of Blind Bat Brewery LLC in Centerport, is concerned the delay may affect a series of seasonal brown ales he wants to sell this winter.

Even if the shutdown ends, "I'm sure there's gonna be a big backlog, and it will take longer than normal," he said. The part-time brewer is known for his creative beers -- such as Oyster Stout and Sweet Potato Saison -- which he sells at local farmers markets on weekends. TTB approval for labels typically takes a month.

Long Island Spirits, a vodka and whiskey producer in Baiting Hollow that calls itself the Island's first craft distiller, is in a similar bind.

Founder Rich Stabile said he makes about 50 percent of his annual sales in the October to December season because of the holidays, and he wanted to release two new liquors this fall.

"It doesn't affect our current items, but with new things we're actively trying to take advantage of the holiday season," he said.

While the suspension has many frustrated, it is more of a hiccup than a critical blow.

Long Ireland Beer Co. in Riverhead is brewing a winter ale that was approved for sale last year, co-owner Greg Martin said.

Blue Point Brewing Co., a larger craft brewery in Patchogue that has operations across the country, has one label pending at the TTB.

Spokesman Curt Potter said it wasn't a big concern. "We have TTB approvals on several beers we haven't even produced," he said.

Wineries are similarly unruffled. Since new wines typically go on the market in the spring -- following the fall harvest season for grapes -- most vineyards would not file label applications for any new wines until early next year, said Ron Goerler Jr., owner of Jamesport Vineyards and president of the Long Island Wine Council.

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