Beer-to-Go Bill Advances in Texas Legislature

(CN) – Texas brewery workers are used to tamping down temper tantrums. Their taproom patrons, buzzing off seasonal brews, often take offense when told they cannot buy beer to take home. Reforms bubbling in the Texas Legislature are poised to rectify this perceived injustice.

The craft beer industry is taking off in Texas. There are now more than 50 microbreweries in Greater Houston, for instance. Fifteen years ago there was only one in the city.

But oversaturation is not a concern in a state where easy drinking macrobrews like Bud Light and Miller Light are still preferred by Joe Six-Pack.

Adam DeBower, operations manager of Austin Beerworks, said the brewery produced just over 20,000 barrels of beer last year, a smidgen of the 20 million barrels sold in Texas in 2018. There are 31 gallons in a barrel.

“So Austin Beerworks accounts for one-tenth of 1% of the market, and all Texas craft brewers combined account for about 2.5% of the total market,” said DeBower, who co-founded the brewery in 2011 and loves beer so much he sometimes drinks it in the shower.

“Shower beers are awesome!” he said in an email. “For instance, you’ve just finished mowing the lawn and you need to clean up and experience peak refreshment at the same time. How else do you do that besides having a cold beer and a hot shower?!”

As a member of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, DeBower is leading an effort to scrap regulations that bar some microbreweries from selling beer to go, and the guild has even won the support of distributors who deliver packaged beer to retailers.

For years, distributors have convinced lawmakers to keep the status quo intact by deploying lobbyists to the Texas Capitol in Austin to ensure their profits weren’t diminished by brewery sales directly to consumers.

But the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and the Beer Alliance of Texas, a distributor group, have agreed that if the beer-to-go legislation becomes law, they will not lobby legislators to adjust brewery production caps for 12 years.

Under the current regime, brewers who produce more than 225,000 barrels per year cannot serve beer for on-premises consumption. Those who fall under that cap can sell up to 5,000 barrels for on-site quaffing in taprooms and restaurants.

“Any to-go sales, should the bill pass, would count against that 5,000 barrel taproom allowance,” DeBower said.

The bill appeared to be headed for a quiet death in the Texas Legislature until last week, when it was added as an amendment to a sunset bill for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which must be passed to keep the agency open.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, said the legislation has cleared the Texas House and the Senate will soon hold a hearing on it and can make changes to it.

“We think the votes are there [in the Senate] for the beer-to-go amendment to stay in and then the bill goes back to the House,” Donley said.

If members of the House don’t agree with the Senate’s changes they can then refer the bill to a conference committee to work out any differences between the Senate and House versions.

“If there are no differences, then it goes to the governor’s desk,” Donley said.

He would not guess about its odds of passage.

“We’re very hopeful. But I don’t get into the prediction business about what the Legislature does,” he said.

The changes can’t come soon enough for one employee of Karbach Brewing Company in Houston.

Samanta, a Karbach receptionist who declined to give her last name, said she used to be a hostess for the brewery’s on-site restaurant and she frequently bore the brunt of customers’ ire.

“When you tried to explain to people that we weren’t allowed by law to sell it [to go], they just wouldn’t understand and they would get really upset,” she said. “Even now we get people asking to purchase kegs directly from us and unfortunately we have to turn them away.”

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