Open the Taps

The 83rd Texas Legislature in 2013 can look forward to thirsty thousands clamoring to be heard above the voice of big-money lobbying groups.

A grassroots organization recently launched in Houston is spreading to the rest of Texas to tackle antiquated Texas beer laws that tend to favor the few and not the consumer.

Open the Taps grew out of the failure of legislation this year to give craft brewers in Texas an equal playing field with wine and even out-of-state brewery/brewpubs. But the group wants to move beyond the interest of Texas brewers by taking a broader consumer-friendly approach.

Ted Duchesne, president of the new nonprofit, points out that consumers are the important fourth tier in the so-called three-tier system of beer that includes the brewery, the wholesaler, and the retailer.

“Craft-beer advocacy groups have worked in places like Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina,” said Duchesne, a beer enthusiast who writes the popular blog Barley Vine. For example, Alabama citizens group Free the Hops managed to push the Gourmet Beer Bill of 2009 through that state’s legislature to open the market to a slew of higher-alcohol beers of sipping variety. “We want to hear from beer drinkers on the types of things they’d like to see,” Duchesne said. To be successful, the group is seeking donations to build a war chest of at least $10,000 through donations via the 100 for $100 campaign and memberships at parties have been held in Houston and are in the works for San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin.

While in-state microbrewery and brewpub laws are an obvious part of the agenda, there is some low-hanging fruit Open the Taps could pluck.One of those objectives has nothing to do with the three-tier system, but a piece of the law that says for a beer to have the word “beer” appear anywhere on the label it must be below 5.1 percent alcohol by volume. That odd definition keeps many beers from crossing state lines without label changes.

Protectionist laws may no longer behoove big brewers as they enter the craft beer market themselves with the distributors benefitting from the growing market segment. Law changes will also allow their businesses to grow without hoops put in place when the beer world was a very different place.

Many legislators have called on Texas House Speaker Joe Straus to appoint an interim committee to explore Texas’ alcoholic beverage code as it relates to beer.

Changing the laws that limit consumers and interstate commerce relating to beer can happen “if we get the right people in office,” said Leslie Sprague, a co-founder of Open the Taps. “We have votes and we’ll ask people running for office ‘do you support this or not?’”

Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of Beer Across Texas: A Guide to Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. You can reach him at [email protected].

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