Texas craft brewers have one big goal for the 2017 legislative session

Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman. Currently, breweries can only sell beer in their taprooms for on-site consumption, but they are hoping the 2017 legislative session will change that.

Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman. Currently, breweries can only sell beer in their taprooms for on-site consumption, but they are hoping the 2017 legislative session will change that.

In 2013, Texas laws changed to allow breweries to sell their beers for on-site consumption — a step in the right direction — although brewers in the state are hoping that this year proves to be an even bigger boon for them.

Now that the 85th Texas legislature is in session, the lobbyists for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the organization that advances the interests of the state’s craft brewers, are going to push for more. Namely, they want breweries to be able to sell beer to-go from their taprooms.

“Having off-premise sales in breweries is our number one priority,” Charles Vallhonrat, director of the guild, said.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild had hoped to make that bill law in 2015, but that didn’t happen. As a result, the Dallas-based Deep Ellum Brewing sued the state in the fall of that year — a lawsuit that has yet to be resolved.

Currently, Texas law permits brewpubs, but not production breweries, to sell beer in bottles, cans and growlers to-go from their facility. Brewpubs can also offer beers from other breweries on-site, but they are limited in the amount of beer they can produce each year: no more than 10,000 barrels.

The inability to make off-premise sales is something brewery owners believe is unfair, and as a result, some breweries have made the switch to a brewpub license, including Austin’s own Jester King in 2013Adelbert’s last year and, now, Blue Owl Brewing, which just today started offering cans and growlers to-go.)

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Introducing and then passing a bill that would give breweries more of the same freedoms as brewpubs — not to mention wineries and distilleries, which can similarly sell their products for off-site enjoyment — might not be so easy.

“We’ve been speaking with the distributor lobbies,” Vallhonrat said. “There’s certainly opposition to it, but we’re working through it. We’re also closely watching the Deep Ellum lawsuit. But we will bring a bill about off-premise sales to the legislature.”

Distributors, he said, are opposed to the idea because allowing consumers to buy beer to take home directly from the breweries could, theoretically, take away some of their business. That’s not how the guild sees it, however.

“We don’t see it as an alternative to retail sales,” Vallhonrat said. “People aren’t going to start buying their beer at the brewery all the time. They’ll go for special occasions, when there’s a big release or they have friends in town. Off-premise sales can drive beer tourism. It’s a great way to promote Texas beer.”

The guild is lobbying for breweries to sell growlers as well as their packaged products to-go, for “breweries to have the same flexibility that brewpubs, as retail licensees, have,” he said.

Only seven states in the U.S., Texas among them, prohibits production breweries from selling draft beer in growlers, according to a compilation of growler laws from the Brewers Association, the trade organization for all U.S. brewers.


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