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Like supporting local businesses? Love beer? Then you need to be following two bills this session which can really help support and enhance our home-grown Texas brewing industry.
HB 660 and HB 602 will each make some important tweaks to current beer regulation to make Texas more brew pub- and craft beer-friendly. It's not going to make major changes to beer distribution in Texas. Instead, it's simply going to help local breweries do what they do best: sell their excellent beer to enthusiastic beer-drinking Texans who love their local product.
The rules as currently written tie the hands of local businesses. If you go on a tour of St. Arnold's, and decide that the end that you must take some Lawnmower home to share with your friends, you have to find a retail establishment that sells it, rather than leave the brewery with a 6-pack as part of your tour price. Like Uncle Billy's Agave Wit and want to ship some to a beer-loving cousin in Lubbock? Too bad, because they're currently not allowed to distribute, other than in a refillable growler.
Let's take a look at the two bills, why they're great for local business and the Texas economy as a whole, and maybe gush a little bit more about excellent Texas beer.
HB 660: Brewpub Beer Distribution
HB 660 enables holders of a brew pub license to expand beyond selling directly to customers, and bottle or keg their beer for distribution and retail sales. A brew pub is defined as an establishment that sells beer for consumption and food for consumption on premises. In more specific terms, Uncle Billy's on Barton Springs is a brewpub. You eat and drink there. Live Oak is not a brewpub--they just keg and distribute. You have to buy their beer elsewhere. Uncle Billy's can't currently distribute to, say, The Alamo Ritz, The Gingerman, Flying Saucer, or Draught House. This bill would let Uncle Billy's (or Love Joy's, or North by Northwest, or Draught House, or any other brew pub) to bottle, can, or keg their beer to be enjoyed elsewhere. Yay!
HB 602: Brewery Tours With Beers To Go
HB 602 amends the TABC code to permit breweries that give tours to include prepackaged product at the end of the tour as part of the included price. It does not turn breweries into liquor stores. To get the beer, you'd still have to go through the tour every time. But it does help fans bring some to go and share more of that Texas beer goodness with their friends and families.
These small tweaks will enhance ability of Texas brewers to market their products, and help our local brewers keep pace with the strong growth in craft beer that other beer-producing states have seen in the past three decades. The status quo ties hands of local brewers, limits how much they can grow their market share, and prevents beer consumers from having the fullest choice possible at their local liquor store or mini mart.
Last night at an event sponsored by the Texas Brewers' Institute, I heard word that some small breweries are also hoping to add on-site sales directly to consumers, perhaps in the form of a bier garten. And changes may be afoot for HB 660, which may require distributors to serve as the middle man between local brewers and retail, but would still enable greater dissemination of local beers.
Legislators, if you pass these bills, you might literally help your state drink our way to fiscal solvency--Texas applies an excise tax to the sale of alcohol. More beer drinking and more beer sales means more revenue for Texas. Hell, plenty of Legislative staffers are already drowning their sorrows over what's going on in the pink dome... Might as well get something for it other than a hangover.
There's concern that the lobbyists for Big Beer distributors will try to squash the bill, fearing any encroachment on market share. Now, to be fair, promoting Texas craft beers will absolutely expand the customer base--we brew some pretty rad beer here. It's really absurd, however, for Big Beer (Bud, Busch, Natty Ice, etc.) to be nervous about local breweries. Big Beer's marketing budgets and market share are so overwhelmingly large, and the production capability of these local breweries is still so small, that the local hooch amounts to hardly a drop in the pitcher. (I wish Live Oak was big enough to advertise during the Superbowl. They're not.)
It's not about taking away from Big Beer. It's about more people spending more money on more beer, different kinds of beer. It's about creating more jobs in breweries, and encouraging more folks to take up the craft. Here in Austin, several new breweries have recently opened, with one or two more on the way. This is great news for our economy, what with the keeping locally spent dollars here in Austin and creating jobs and all.
These bills can also have major positive implications for tourism: they basically can do to the Texas beer industry what similar changes did to the Texas wine industry a few years back. Now, the Hill Country is overrun with wine tours and all-day marathon winery visits. It has been a big boon for tourism. Beer--arguably the most iconic Texas beverage--could do the same, with folks flocking to The Draught House in Austin, Fredericksburg Brewing Company, Blue Star Brewing Company in San Antonio, or other brewpubs and buying some wonderful Texas beer to take home.
Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of these bills, because I'm a huge fan of Texas beer. And the independent brewers seem pretty enthusiastic that they might pass this time around. Want to learn more about HB 660 and HB 602? Check out the links below.