Texas beer interests craft compromise that would boost specialty brewers

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When the Senate Business and Commerce Committee met March 5 to talk about amending the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, you'd have thought they were giving away free beer.

But it wasn't happy hour.

Witnesses testifying on behalf of craft brewers -- but also manufacturers, the Texas Association of Business and the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation -- frowned at a bill filed by committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

Carona's SB639, which only the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas supported, would, among other things, set a uniform price that manufacturers could charge distributors, even though the distributors then could charge retailers whatever they wanted.

That's price-fixing and anti-consumer, the critics said, and costs would rise. Even a representative of beer giant Anheuser-Busch said Texas should let the free market work.

Smaller brewers from across the state, including Fritz Rahr, who owns the popular Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth, turned out for their preferred legislation, a package by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, that would help the booming craft beer industry, allowing brewpubs to increase production, sell to brewery visitors and distribute to wholesalers and retailers, which only out-of-state companies now can do.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild says the industry had a $608 million economic impact on the state in 2011, and that's expected to increase to $5.6 billion by 2020. (bit.ly/MBt37G)

Eltife's SB515-518 are co-authored by GOP Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury and several Democrats. Sens. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound are also listed as co-authors.

Carona said his bill was designed to get all the interests at the table. He told the interested parties to work out an alternative by Monday or he'd hold up the legislation until the end of the session.

That would have left crafters where they were in previous years: like stale beer left on the table at last call.

Agreement between the brewers and distributors was reached, and revised versions of all the bills passed out of committee on Tuesday.

But don't raise your glass yet -- not until final passage and the governor's signature seal the deal.

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