Big changes brewing in Texas beer industry

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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AUSTIN -- After a week of negotiations between small brewers and big distributors, legislation to overhaul the way beer is sold in Texas moved to the state Senate on Tuesday evening.

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee approved a compromise package that is "the most significant legislation for the Texas craft-brewing industry since the legalization of brewpubs 20 years ago," said Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the oldest craft brewery in Texas.

Small brewers led by Saint Arnold and brewpubs such as Freetail Brewing Co. of San Antonio have been campaigning to expand their market. They say laws unfairly favor big breweries.

Current law prohibits brewpubs from packaging their beer for stores. It also prevents breweries from selling beer to tour visitors.

Under the compromise, brewpubs and small breweries would pay $250 for a license to sell beer directly to consumers. Brewpubs would be limited to selling 1,000 barrels a year. And they would be allowed to sell only their own concoctions.

"You're going to see the craft beer industry grow," said Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who developed the bills. "There'll be more choices."

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, raised the stakes by introducing a separate bill that could overhaul the whole industry's pricing structure.

The Business and Commerce Committee approved a more modest version, but Carona, the chairman, added an amendment tying the legislative package together for votes still to come in the Legislature.

Wagner called the legislation "an imperfect compromise" but said that "the overall impact of the bills taken as a whole is positive" and that he supports it.

Scott Metzger, legislative chairman of the Craft Brewers Guild and owner of Freetail, said efforts to loosen restrictions on brewpubs have taken years.

"Today, we have a deal," he said.

Eltife's proposal to allow brewpubs to self-distribute and sell directly to customers on their premises has the support of the Beer Alliance of Texas, a lobbying group that represents beer distributors and some craft breweries.

Carona's measure has the support of the Wholesale Beer Distributors.

Staff writer Barry Shlachter contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press and The Texas Tribune.

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