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New law on tap would allow Texans to buy beer to-go from breweries

New law on tap would allow Texans to buy beer to-go from breweries

8th Wonder Brewery Procrastinator beer
Beer-to-go could be a big deal for craft breweries like Saint Arnold.  Courtesy photo

A compromise between craft beer breweries and beer distributors should lead to a big win for Texas beer drinkers. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild and the Beer Alliance of Texas, an organization that represents beer distributors, have agreed to support proposed legislation that will allow consumers to buy beer to-go directly from breweries.

Currently, Texas law only allows consumers to buy beer at breweries for on-premise consumption, and even that’s only been the case since 2013. Under the proposed legislation, currently working its way through the Texas Legislature as SB 312 and HB 672, consumers would be able to purchase up to 576 ounces (equivalent to two cases) of beer per person per day directly from a brewery. In exchange, both parties have agreed not to lobby for additional changes to the law, such as the 5,000 barrel annual limit on brewery taproom sales or the 10,000 barrel annual limit on production for brewpubs.

Representatives from three Houston craft breweries — Saint Arnold Brewing Company, 8th Wonder Brewery, and Holler Brewing Co — expressed optimism about what these changes could mean for both breweries and consumers.

“If this historic piece of legislation goes through, everybody wins: brewers, distributors, retailers, beer drinkers,” says 8th Wonder president and co-founder Ryan Soroka. “This law would create another revenue stream for breweries that could fund growth and create more jobs. Additionally, this would create another marketing opportunity for breweries to connect with and educate their visitors, which would ultimately result in a positive economic domino effect through the different tiers of the industry.”

Saint Arnold CMO Lennie Ambrose shares Soroka’s sentiments and even expresses support for the moratorium on future changes after this legislative session. “A brewery doesn't have to wonder what their business plan is going to be,” Ambrose says. “They know going in for the next 12 years everything is going to be status quo. Hopefully, that status quo works for everybody.”

Holler Brewing co-owner John Holler sees potential benefits for his Sawyer Yards business. Currently draft-only, Holler will likely add the ability to sell Crowlers (32-ounce cans) once the legislation takes effect. “This deal gives beer drinkers what they’re asking for without waiting any longer for it,” he writes. “I’m very excited about it and I’m proud of my fellow board members for getting us this far.”

Still, he remains an outspoken critic of the three-tier system that in most cases requires distributors to serve as a middleman between producers of alcoholic beverages and consumers and retailers. Currently, only breweries that produce fewer than 10,000 barrels per year may self-distribute, and the compromise that helped bring about the bargain will maintain that cap for the foreseeable future. Holler sees the deal as an opportunity for distributors to act in their own self-interest without any further challenges to their critical role in the market.

Most of the beer you drink went through a distributor, not by the choice of you, or the brewer, or the retailer, but by the law. And that distributor has no competition by law (the brewery is bound to that one distributor for life!), so they charge an overpriced fee relative to the service they provide. This fee gets ultimately paid by the consumer and it’s their lifeblood. (Think of it like the Office Space penny-stealing scheme.)

This scheme is what they dearly want to protect. By putting Beer To Go to bed, they’re hoping that the public and the media will calm down and let them get back to business as usual. If all they have to do is let us sell a limited amount of Beer To Go, AND if we agree not to push the agreed limits for the next 12 years, that’s a great deal for them.

But consumers shouldn’t let a desire for a better deal — say, the ability to buy kegs directly from a brewery — get in the way of the good. Currently, Texas is the only state that prohibits breweries from selling beer-to-go directly to consumers. The proposed legislation would finally bring Texas breweries into equal footing with their peers in other states as well as Texas wineries and distilleries.

"As we keep saying, Texas is the only state that doesn’t allow [to-go sales],” Ambrose notes. “We’re not looking for anything crazy: just the rights we should have as small businesses."