Reform Texas Beer Laws? Yes Please!

December 11, 2012

If you’ve ever been to the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, you may have sampled some of their many beers inside of the gift shop. You may have also bought a t-shirt, a ball cap, or maybe even that fancy golf bag they were selling when I last visited. But there is one thing I can guarantee that you didn’t buy while you were there: beer! It’s not because the fine folks at the little brewery in Shiner don’t want to sell you beer, but because Texas has some very ridiculous laws regulating its beer industry. Some of these laws date back to before our current legislators were even born, but there were bills introduced in last year’s legislative session that would have relieved some of the restrictions that both breweries and brewpubs operate under. Unfortunately, these bills never came up for a final vote.

As mentioned before, breweries cannot sell their beer directly to the public. They must instead go through distributors who put the beer on the shelves for the consumer to purchase. Sure, breweries can serve a maximum of 32oz. of beer to their visitors –which breaks down to four, eight ounce servings (<- look at that math!)- but if they take money for that beer they are breaking Texas law. But even worse, in my opinion, are the restrictions placed on brewpubs.

A brewpub is a pub that brews beer (I’m hoping I didn’t have to tell you that, but I have to cover the bases). Brewpubs are kind of like little breweries in that they brew beer, but that’s about where the similarities end. Unlike breweries, Texas brewpubs cannot bottle/can/keg their beer so that distributors/wholesalers can put in on the shelves. Instead, and unlike breweries again, they are only allowed to sell their beer on site, mainly to be consumed on site. You may be thinking to yourself “So that gives them an advantage over breweries then, that they can actually sell their beer on site, right?” Wrong! You can argue breweries being allowed to sell beer directly to the consumer on site would be a very small bonus financially (and that whole freedom thing, of course), whereas allowing brewpubs to put their beer on the shelves would for sure increase their chances of drastically increasing their profits (and that whole freedom thing, of course).

One of the worst parts about these restrictions is that they actually give out-of-state brewpubs an advantage over Texas brewpubs, within Texas. Unlike Texas brewpubs, out-of-state brewpubs can have their beers on Texas shelves. So basically, if a Texas brewpub owner wishes to expand his brand in Texas, he’d need to relocate to another state (Yay Texas Business! “Go Texan!”). Now how does this even make sense?

Another way these restrictions hurt Texas brewpubs is that they set for them a very low ceiling. A brewpub owner may want to transition into a full on brewery, but because they cannot bottle/can/keg their beer, and are also limited in how much beer they can brew, they would pretty much have to start from scratch (which is a very expensive start-up). So for a state that sticks out its economic-chest at every chance, and touts how much it supports small business, there’s at least one small business industry it is holding down.

The Texas wine industry has luckily benefited from change to state laws. In the early 2000s, Texas wine laws were reformed. The wine industry in Texas has flourished ever since, going from employing 1,800 Texans before 2001 to close to 10,000 currently. Wouldn’t you think it’d make great sense to reform the laws regulating beer-makers, and give the Texas craft beer industry this type of opportunity for growth? (A quick aside: Visit Lavaca Bluffs Winery outside of Lolita. They make good wine, and seem to be great people….and there are bluffs!)

Hopefully in the 2013 legislative session the craft beer industry in Texas has a huge victory. It’s a tough battle, as many people just don’t see a problem with how we get our beer, and feel there are bigger things to worry about, making it hard for bills that would change such things to actually come up for final vote in Austin. The fight is also made tough by the big beer companies lobbying under the table to hold on to their share of the market in Texas. But uphill battle or not, there really needs to be a change here in Texas, and craft beer lovers need to rally for that change. And because I feel the need to use a pun: I hope there’s some change brewing in 2013. And Cheers!

-Derick Zimmerman