YAKIMA VALLEY BREWERY
UNDER ATF SIEGE
- No tanks yet; just bureaucrats
by Larry Ashby
(This article first appeared in the 11/93 Washington Libertarian (800)353-1776)
UNION GAP - Bert and Sherry Grant were afraid last April. It was the clammy fear that makes the heart race and the mouth turn dry.
An agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was elbowing his way into their Yakima Valley Brewery.
Bert Grant knew the swaggering fed was from the "Waco Wackos."
The Grants watched the ATF rep strut through their offices. For the next few days, the guy would collar employees and demand they open their file cabinets for his inspection.
"He looked like Central Casting's choice for an SS officer. You know, those scary eyes and pockmarked face," Sherry Grant said.
The epidermally challenged "SS officer" was David Dunbar, ATF/Seattle, an "enforcer".
Between April and June of 1993, Dunbar would visit the brewery whenever it was convenient for him and inconvenient for the hard-working Grants. A scheduled day would turn into several days. Morning until night, Dunbar would interrogate employees and browbeat the Grants in their own offices.
Lots of action had led up to the frightful fed's spring visitations.
In November of 1992, the Grants decided to publish nutritional information on the six-pack carrier carton for Grant's Scottish Ale. Afterward, someone whom the feds are protecting filed a complaint with the ATF in Washington, DC. No one at the ATF will reveal who filed the complaint. So, from its Hitlerian heights, ATF hauled out its fat rule book, and told the Grants in January 1993 they must no longer publish the truth on Scottish Ale six-packs.
ATF didn't want Americans to know that a 12 oz. bottle of Grant's Scottish Ale contains 145 calories, 2.24 grams of protein, 12.7 grams of carbohydrates, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 75 milligrams of sodium and 195 milligrams of potassium.
The people, ATF determined, must never learn that the great Scottish Ale contains 170% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B-12, 62.5% of the RDA for folic acid, 14.6% of niacin, and 13.6% of vitamin B-6.
The information is true. But that wasn't the point. ATF is a nasty-tempered bureaucracy.
"All therapeutic claims, regardless of truthfulness, are inherently misleading and particularly deceptive," ATF figures.
An obscure 1950s ATF regulation - based on Prohibition Era regs - was used by ATF geniuses to render Grant's six-pack carton verboten.
Sherry Grant informed brewing industry trade publications about the government crackdown on her business. Mainstream newspaper and radio journalists then picked up on it. The resulting pieces praised the Grants and ridiculed ATF from January through May. Even Playboy ran a pro-Grant blurb.
Brewer's Digest said the Grant's labeling decision was "in keeping with its 10-year reputation for creativity and innovation in the brewing industry."
Charles Osgood said "... [ATF] has told Herbert Grant, the owner of the brewery, that he can list the calories, the fat - the bad stuff - but he's got to stop talking about the vitamins and minerals in Grant's Ale. People might think the ale is good for them, and [ATF] wouldn't want that to happen. Sounds like the makings of an Osgood Health Tip to me."
John Kelso, writing in Austin TX, said "the last thing [the feds] want is for anybody to infer that anything with alcohol might be good for you. Spoilsports."
Jon Hahn, Seattle PI, slammed ATF spokesman Jack Killorin when the bureaucrat said "no enabling legislation" allowed the Grants to publish nutritional information on their ale, despite recent FDA demands that food content be meticulously labeled.
"The baloney content of such [ATF] thinking exceeds the 99% level we've come to expect from what one critic calls the 'just say no' philosophy of federal agencies under the Reagan and Bush administrations," Hahn wrote.
A Vancouver Columbian editorial in February called ATF's order to the Grants "hypocritical on its face ... More information, not less, is the way to encourage better choices," the Columbian fumed.
A California editor nearly came out of his chair when he heard what ATF was doing to the Grants. Jerry D. Mead started his Wine Trader story with the headline "ATF anti-truth forces strike out against nutrients."
"Just when you thought you'd heard it all, those dorks at ATF ... added to their history of dumb, dorky, totally stupid, anti-American and anti-truth policy decisions," he wrote. "This arrogant agency and the stupid regulations it enforces must be replaced."
Such comments filled American airspace from coast to coast for months.
Fourth District Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Selah) reportedly was furious. He visited the Grants to see what he could do to help them. But alas. Congressmen can't throw a sack over the Dunbars of the world. Tax-paid "SS officers" lurk in the government's administrative branch and get their marching orders from the president.
ATF Strikes Back
After the negative national publicity, ATF descended on the Grants with a vengeance, capped by Dunbar's visits.
Labels on Grant's Celtic Ale suddenly became "not quite the green color" of the one attached to the "Statement Of Process" in ATF files. "Make the shade of green EXACT, or stop selling the product," ATF said. Then bureaucrats denied they had the process statement at all. The Grants sent them one. The feds claimed the Grants sent the document to the wrong ATF office. Feds ordered the Grants to stop sales, immediately, of Celtic Ale.
Grant told the Herald Republic in April he had to submit a new label application and await approval before he could again sell bottled Celtic Ale.
"Sometimes it takes a week ... other times it takes a month," for government approvals. "It was a terrible runaround," Grant told Washington Libertarian.
Government harassment has put a hefty dent in the small company's profits. But vindictive feds apparently have just started their games.
Following the label flap, ATF decreed Grant's Cider isn't cider at all, but "wine". It didn't matter that ATF agents had been in to spot-check the brew every year since Grant's began producing it in 1984, and agreed every year that it was cider.
Now that the ATF was mad at the Grants, bureaucrats would force them to sell the popular Grant's Cider as wine.
In mid July, ATF notified the Grants - in a certified letter from the San Francisco regional office - that their Yakima Cider is wine. They would have to produce it in a separate facility from the ale brewery. A share of "wine" sales revenues would have to be set aside for federal wine taxes.
There was no way the Grants could pull it off.
"We had to stop production. It represents a loss of 7% to 8% of our income for the past four or five months. They're driving us crazy" said Bert Grant.
As a possible coup de grace, ATF told the Grants they would have to pay nine years' worth of "unpaid" back wine taxes and "tax penalties" on Grant's Cider.
"We were shocked. We asked Dunbar how much back tax and penalties we'd have to pay. A thousand? Two-hundred thousand? He wouldn't say. They still won't tell us. We haven't heard from them since June. We can't do any financial planning for next year. They know this is killing us," said Sherry Grant.
Bert Grant has learned that ATF bureaucrats - like all other bureaucrats - effectively work outside due process of law. Citizens can sue them, but only at enormous expense and after years of waiting. Knowing that, bureaucrats ride roughshod over any American they wish.
"There are no checks and balances on these people. They're extremely authoritarian. You can't touch them," Bert Grant said.
What if an American citizen just tells them to go to hell?
"These people can come in and kill you if they want. They could burn us down. Look at Waco or Randy Weaver. I used to think I was just paranoid. But after dealing with these guys face to face, I'm scared every day," said Sherry Grant.
So why did she tell the press about ATF activities and make the feds mad in the first place?
Sherry Grant's face turned red, and her eyes flashed.
"This is not Nazi Germany. It's not the Communist Soviet Union. This is, by God, America and we are, by God, Americans. We need to turn the light on these guys. We can't allow them to slither around in the dark anymore. I might wind up dead in a ditch tomorrow, but I will stand up to them," she said.
Meanwhile, the ATF tax threat hangs over the Grants like the Sword of Damocles.
"We are worried," said Sherry Grant. "We have 42 employees who have helped us build this business. What will become of them and their families if the government takes it all away?"
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