October 23, 2008
The state of beer in Texas

Nice story in the Press about the sad state of craft beer brewing in Texas.

I have been drinking craft beers and visiting breweries and brewpubs all summer in an attempt to gauge the zeitgeist of Texas beer culture. When it comes to beer, Texas is a puzzling place. We are a beer-loving people, thanks to our cultural heritage, but we are also the former home of Carrie Nation and the epicenter of a 150-year-old Prohibitionist tradition. Statistically, we are among the nation's biggest beer drinkers. But our liquor laws make it ridiculously difficult to run a brewery, a brewpub or a beer festival.

There are now 70 craft breweries in Michigan, and 60 in New York State. Texas, one of the biggest beer-drinking states of the union, has just six.

As the story notes, most of the brewpubs that once operated in Texas have closed down, and many of the craft breweries either went out of business or got gobbled up by a major. I have fond and increasingly receding memories of brewfests here in Houston, when there were enough craft beer makers to make such an event possible. It sure would be nice to attend such a thing again.

Of course, as the sidebar story reports, that would require a change to the law in Texas.

There's a Texas law that prohibits breweries from selling their beer in their gift shops. Bill Metzger, the publisher of Southwest Brewing News, says it's the worst of many bad beer laws in Texas.

"It doesn't make any sense," he says. "It's like you make a killer brisket at your barbecue joint, and when people come to visit, you have to tell them you can't sell them any. I can't tell you how many small breweries in New York and California have told me that without their gift shop they would go out of business."

Once you subtract retail markup and the distributor's cut, a small brewery sees very little of the price you pay for a six-pack in a supermarket. Fledgling craft breweries don't make enough beer to interest distributors or retailers either, according to Tony Formby, managing partner of Rahr & Sons Brewing Company in Fort Worth. Selling beer for full retail from a gift shop can help a tiny brewery survive.

But it's not just the profits that make on-site sales so important, it's the marketing. When you go to a brewery, you want to buy the beer you just tasted and then show it off to your friends, says Metzger. "That creates a buzz that gives the little guys a chance to grow."

"Texas wineries got together and got a law passed that allows them to sell bottles at the winery -- people don't understand why we can't do the same thing. The difference is that there are 160 wineries in Texas and they have the Department of Agriculture behind them," says Formby. The wineries are getting support from the wine distributors, help from the tourism department and encouragement from their local communities. "There are only five or six of us, and we don't get any support at all," says Formby.


In 2007, Brock Wagner, the founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, led a coalition called Friends of Texas Microbreweries in an attempt to convince the Texas Legislature's House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee to change the law to allow sales at ­microbreweries.

"Every place where microbrew­eries have flourished, the laws have been changed to give them the ability to sell to the public," Wagner points out. Every member of the legislature he talked to in Austin was supportive, but the bill never reached the committee.

Mike McKinney, the beer lobbyist who represents Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, the Budweiser and Miller distributors, had a lot to do with the death of this bill. The beer distributors are major campaign contributors to licensing committee chair Kino Flores (D-Palmview), as well as just about every other politician in the state of Texas.

Brock Wagner vows to try again in 2009.

That effort from 2007 was called Saint Arnold Goes To Austin, which I and many other Texas bloggers, on both sides of the political aisle (since as I said back then, beer is a bipartisan issue), supported. I look forward to supporting it again, hopefully with a better outcome this time around.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 23, 2008 to Food, glorious food

I deeply resent politicos who are on lobbyists payrolls. They do not work for the general citizenry, only for themselves and their patrons.
Microbrewers, aka Small Business, are entitled to sell their wares to any licensed facility, including their own gift shops. Time to get rid of the "good ol' boys" and obtain responsible government.

Posted by: Schmendric on November 11, 2008 3:02 PM
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