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Texas House OKs sales of beer, wine on Sunday mornings, plus beer-to-go

Arianna Auber
An amendment to a recently passed House bill would allow Texas breweries like Austin Beerworks to sell beer-to-go, but the bill must now be passed by the Senate and could go undergo changes in that chamber. [Ralph Barrera / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The Texas House has approved two big changes to state alcohol regulations — allowing for the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays, two hours earlier than the law currently permits, and for manufacturing breweries to sell beer-to-go from their taprooms.

Both policy changes were added Thursday as amendments to House Bill 1545, which oversees the operations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and must be passed to keep the agency running. The bill was approved on third reading Friday and moves on to the Senate, which could remove those amendments and make other changes.

Sunday sales

Current state law dictates that retailers such as grocers and convenience stores cannot sell beer or wine for off-premise use before noon on Sundays. With the amendment proposed by State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, people would be able to pick up a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine starting two hours earlier at 10 a.m. — the same time that bars and restaurants can starting selling alcoholic beverages for patrons to drink on-site.

The noon start time of alcohol sales at retail stores goes back to 1935, when the 21st amendment repealed the prohibition on booze in the U.S. Since then, 35 other states have passed laws to allow sales before noon, and "many more are in that process," Springer said Thursday.

"It is all about convenience, not consumption. We allow country clubs to begin selling mimosas at 10 o' clock" in the morning, he said.

The HB 1545 author, state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, opposed Springer's amendment, but it passed in a 99-40 vote. It's worth noting that the amendment doesn't change another state law industry groups were hoping would be amended during this legislative session: the law that bans liquor stores from being open on Sundays.

Another amendment, authored by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, would have changed that, too, but it failed to muster the needed votes.

"I'd like it to be where you decide if you want to be open all seven days, or two days or three, but no, we're going to have some government regulation here more than I think that we should have, but fine, I'm willing to compromise," Raymond said Friday during the third reading of the bill.

That amendment is not part of the bill sent to the Senate.

Beer-to-go sales

For years, the owners of Texas manufacturing breweries have been pushing to sell packaged beers to go from their taprooms, as brewpubs can do. The state's wineries and distilleries can also sell bottles for off-site consumption, and breweries in all other states in the U.S. have the same ability, according to state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.

Texas brewers seemed closer than ever earlier this year to their goal when one of the biggest beer-to-go opponents, the Beer Alliance of Texas, compromised with the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, resulting in Rodriguez' revised House Bill 672. Under the compromise, brewery customers would be allowed to take home up to 576 oz., or the equivalent of two cases, of beer a day.

With time running out for HB 672 to be heard in committee, Rodriguez decided this week to propose it as an amendment to the TABC sunset bill.

"Texas craft brewers' success is limited by an illogical inconsistency in the alcohol beverage code that prohibits these small businesses from engaging in to go sales, like the rest of the craft beverage industry in Texas and in the United States," he said Thursday. "This amendment accomplishes a very simple purpose. It answers the calls you've been hearing from your constituents who want the simple right to buy beer to go from Texas breweries."

Notably, the amendment — which passed after a very close-call vote that almost gave the naysayers the day — would retain the 5,000 barrel cap breweries have on taproom sales. The only thing changing is that these sales would now go toward on or off-premise consumption.

Off-premise sales could boost the marketplace, Rodriguez said.

"People go to taprooms, they taste the beer, and if they like it, they're going to go home and share it with their friends," Rodriguez said. "Eventually, they're going to sell more and more of that beer. (Brewers) are going to (need to) go to a distributor, in fact. 'This is a very popular brand in the brewery, and we need a distributor to help us sell to local stores.' So I think it would increase business on both sides."

The TABC sunset bill would also establish a streamlined label approval process and would remove a distinction between ‘beer’ and ‘ale’ that requires brewers to acquire multiple permits, among other changes and regulations.