March 07, 2009
Time again to support your local microbrewer

I've mentioned before that the microbrewers are going to try again as they did in 2007 to get a law passed that would allow them to sell their wares at their bottling plants. Here's an update in the Chron on where that stands.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, introduced a bill this week allowing small brewers -- those producing no more than 250,000 barrels a year -- to sell up to 5,000 barrels' worth of beer annually at their breweries.

On Monday, she said she felt the bill was limited enough to balance the brewers' interest with those of distributors, the middlemen between breweries and the public.

By Thursday, Farrar had already run into stiff resistance from the distributors' lobby.

"The industry feels that if you crack the door, you'll open a Pandora's box," she said.

Rep. Farrar's bill is HB2094. As I noted in my previous entry, there are some similar bills already out there - SB754 by Sen. Wendy Davis, and its companion HB1062 by Rep. Lon Burnam. The problem with these bills is the same as it has always been: The lobby for the big brewers hates it and wants it dead.

Farrar, who two years ago introduced similar legislation that never came out of committee, said she would be willing to further confine the current bill -- restricting the direct sales to the conclusion of a brewery tour, say, or limiting how much beer could be sold to an individual.

But regardless, she said, the law needs to recognize the way alcoholic beverages are produced and marketed today. She cited the change a few years ago allowing online sales of wine.

Brock Wagner, the Saint Arnold founder, said allowing small breweries to sell on site would build brand awareness and could actually increase sales at groceries, liquor stores and bars.

"We are not trying to compete with the retailers or our distributors," he said.

For example, Saint Arnold hosts a popular brewery tour each Saturday. Visitors see how the beer is made and can sample some of the varieties. If they could take a six-pack home, Wagner said, they would be more likely to remember the style they liked the next time they go to the store. Or they could share with a friend, who might also then buy the beer.

As it is now, when the tour is over, the brewery can't legally sell anything stronger than root beer.

Imagine touring a Hill Country winery and being told you couldn't take home one of the bottles you liked.

Farrar agreed that a law change would boost tourism.

"Having this allows a visitor to the brewery to have a more complete experience," she said.

"This would be a huge win for the 'little guys,' " added Scott Birdwell, owner of DeFalco's Home Wine & Beer Supplies in Houston, in an e-mail.

It would also be a huge win for a freer market, since what we have now is effectively an oligopoly for the big distributors. They're an entrenched and powerful special interest, and they have no desire to budge even if it wouldn't do them any real harm, as is the case here. The best thing you can do to counter them is to contact your own representative and ask him or her to support any of the bills listed above. This isn't about Rs and Ds, it's about beer. You can't get more bipartisan than that. Cory has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 07, 2009 to That's our Lege

It will be a test of strength for Republican conservatives, playing to their religious base, whether this bill pases. Why on earth the state sees a need to regulate the sale of alcohol, as opposed to regulating the sale of bananas or baby carriages, still baffles me.

Posted by: Dennis on March 7, 2009 9:01 AM

"This isn't about Rs and Ds, it's about beer."

Great line, Charles, and so true.

Posted by: Bob on March 7, 2009 9:10 AM
Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)