Texas

Brew to go? This law would let you buy a six-pack at your favorite craft brewery

Pull up a seat at the Hop & Sting Brewing Co. in Grapevine and enjoy a draft.

Maybe the Monarch American lager, the Hop to be Square IPA or Galactic Haze IPA.

Just know, as good as the beer might be, you can’t take any out of the brewery with you.

But there’s a proposal in the Texas Legislature that would change that.

State lawmakers are considering a plan to let consumers at Texas craft breweries buy beer-to-go in cans, bottles, even growlers (containers used to transport beer).

After all, brewpubs, wineries and distilleries in Texas already may sell drinks to go from their storefronts, proponents of the law say.

“As a small brewery, we need the right to be able to sell our beer in as many places as we can,” said Jon Powell, who co-owns Hop & Sting with Brian Burton. “We would like to have the ability to not be at the mercy of retailers, who only have so much shelf space.”

This is especially important in Tarrant County, home to a growing brewery business, at a time that beer aficionados increasingly enjoy experimenting and enjoying a variety of flavors.

“The days of your grandfather, father, mom drinking that same beer over and over again is gone,” Burton said. “People go to different places and check off the beer they try.

“We need the ability to make different kinds” and have people be able to take them home and share them with family and friends, he said..

Identical bills allowing beer-to-go sales from Texas craft breweries — Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 672 — are pending in the Texas Legislature.

Pros

Supporters of these bills say there are archaic beer laws in Texas.

Established after Prohibition, a three-tier system creates a separation between beer manufacturers, distributors and retailers, to make sure there’s a competitive marketplace and to prevent monopolies.

In those rules, breweries are either licensed as brewpubs, which can sell beer-to-go, or manufacturing breweries, which cannot.

Brew pubs are limited to selling 10,000 barrels of their own beer a year, which includes 1,000 barrels that they self-distribute.

Local breweries such as Hop & Sting, or Wild Acre Brewing in Fort Worth, are classified as small manufacturers of craft beer that are allowed them to sell 225,000 barrels of beer a year, but no beer-to-go.

The two bills in the Texas Legislature propose letting these small manufacturing breweries sell up to 5,000 barrels of beer — to be consumed on property or sold to go — each year.

“Craft beer is a very, very competitive industry,” said John Prichett, founder and CEO of Wild Acre. “We have visitors all the time that come in the tap room.

“They’d love to take beer back to their friends. We have to say, ‘No, we can’t sell you anything.’ It’s putting a limit on our product,” he said. “This (allowing beer-to-go sales) would be a good way to market and promote small breweries.”

Texas is the only state where customers can’t already buy beer-to-go from breweries, said Caroline Wallace, deputy director of Texas Craft Brewers Guild. More than 13,000 people have signed a petition to change that in Texas, she said.

Cons

Critics, which include distributors, have long opposed any change to the Texas law because it might cut into their profits.

Distributors also say privately that they don’t want to water down the three tier system or the state could end up with beer monopolies.

“What benefit does the state receive by further altering regulations?” asked Larry Del Papa, president, CEO and chairman of Del Papa Distributing Co., in a recent column. “And, what impact would such a change have on the thousands of small retailers who become further disadvantaged by the continuous “carve-outs” that craft brewers request, during each legislative session, to broaden what their license allows?”

Del Papa noted that his company’s distributor license only lets it sell beer to licensed retailers and not even to employees.

“The regulatory system for beer in Texas is not broken nor antiquated,” he wrote. “It is highly successful for all participants: brewers, distributors, retailers and consumers. There is no justifiable need to further amend state law. Doing so will only enhance the advantage of a very few breweries who already enjoy great success as a result of current regulations.”

Texas plan

Prichett, of Wild Acre Brewing, said current Texas law puts brewing manufacturers at a disadvantage with counterparts in other states, who are able to sell their beer to go.

“We should be able to do what other breweries in other states can do,” he said. “We should have legislation to help Texas companies succeed.”

Dozens of House members including Tarrant state Reps. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, have signed on as co-authors to this bill in the House.

If this measure becomes law, it would go into effect Sept. 1.

Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass laws.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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