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Texas brewers reach compromise with distributors about beer to go sales

Arianna Auber
Breweries like Austin Beerworks would finally be able to sell packaged beer to go from their taprooms with the passage of two companion bills that a distributor group has recently agreed to support. [Ralph Barrera / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Texas breweries have a stronger chance than ever of being allowed to sell beer to go from their taprooms — now that a major distributor group has gotten on board amid bipartisan support.

Breweries in the state have pushed to sell packaged beers to go from their taprooms for several years, but the powerful beer distributor lobby had stymied their efforts in the legislature until recently. The Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents distributors, has reached an agreement with the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, a trade organization for brewers, to permit brewery tasting rooms to sell beers for off-premise consumption.

As a result, companion bills in the Texas House and Senate have been reworked to reflect the compromise. Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 672 — authored by State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, respectively — would allow taproom customers of manufacturing breweries to take home up to 576 oz., or the equivalent of two cases, of beer per day. The beers can be sold in any packaged format, whether that's bottles, cans, growlers or crowlers.

Currently, it's legal for taproom visitors to purchase beer for on-site consumption, and wineries, distilleries and beer producers licensed as brewpubs can sell a certain amount of beer to go in Texas as well.

As the bills outline, breweries would retain the 5,000 barrel cap they already have on taproom sales. The only thing changing is that these sales could now go toward on or off-premise consumption. Breweries would have to report the total amount of both types of sales, in barrels, to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The alcohol content of each packaged beer would also have to be clearly outlined on labels.

Texas' brewers agreement with the Beer Alliance of Texas could provide the momentum they need to pass their biggest legislative goal, according to a news release. (But the bills aren't a sure thing yet. They must first wind through the House and Senate and then move onto Gov. Greg Abbott for signing.)

In past years, the Beer Alliance of Texas, along with other beer distributor trade organization the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, had opposed taproom sales of take-home brews because they said it would harm the three-tier system that keeps beer manufacturers, distributors and retailers completely separate from each other.

“We have committed to working with our friends in the craft-manufacturing segment on sensible regulations that provide for a stable and predictable three tier market in Texas," Beer Alliance president Rick Donley said in the news release announcing the agreement. The three-tier system "continues to be recognized as the gold standard for regulatory structures across the country.”

The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas did not sign onto the agreement, according to a statement the organization made to the Texas Tribune.

Texas remains the only state in the country that doesn't permit beer to go sales from brewery taprooms. Last year, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild formed CraftPAC, a political action committee that uses contributions from brewers and consumers to support legislation, legislative candidates and other political initiatives that will benefit the industry, in the hopes of making the change brewers say is crucial to their business.

Both Texas Republicans and Democrats included their support for take-home sales in their party platforms at each of their conventions last year, a first-time milestone for states breweries.

"Allowing ‘beer-to-go’ sales is a common-sense issue that both Republicans and Democrats agree on because it’s good for small business and has come to be expected by consumers,” Rodriguez said in the news release.