Battle of the Barrel

The Blue Star beer pig fits conveniently in your fridge, but you can’t buy a six pack at H-E-B.
Texas Microbrewer's Dream #1: After visitors have smelled the kettle and sampled the beer selection on the Saturday tour at St. Arnold's Brewery in Houston, they typically ask to buy a six-pack of longnecks to take home. Founder Brock Wagner's dream is to be able to sell it to them rather than send them to the nearest liquor store down the road. Maybe St. Arnold's could even have its own little on-site pub.

Current Texas law has hobbled the local microbrewing industry by splitting brewery licenses, Wagner says. You can have a brewery license, but then you can only sell through a distributor; or you can have a brew-pub license, but then you can't distribute your beer to the commercial market. As a result, 14 out of 19 Texas microbreweries have bottomed out, whereas breweries flourish in states without these license restrictions, Wagner says. Texas brewers have a simple request for the state legislature: let them to sell up to 5,000 barrels directly to the public. After all, the Lege already repealed a similar restriction for

"Honestly, we're probably talking about selling a couple hundred barrels-a-year direct to the public," Wagner says. "But that couple-hundred barrels, if we sell direct to customers ... our profit goes from about a buck to a buck-fifty `per case` to about $13. That's like selling another two or three thousand barrels ...

"Breweries will be able to take that money, reinvest it in the brewery, market their beer better, grow better, hire more people," Wagner says.

St. Arnold's has banded together with Texas's other four breweries to launch a grassroots lobbying movement centered around a blog at If it's not too much for us to speculate, if one bill passes in the upcoming legislative session, it'll be this one.

That's because all the Texas blogosphere is buzzing about it, and they're not just talking about pints and foam. The bill's a matter of supporting small businesses, a buzzword in every politicians' lexicon. The breweries don't have a bill sponsor yet, but their catchphrase is "Beer is a bipartisan issue," with lefty blogger Charles Kuffner ( endorsing it and Republican blogger "Evan" ( helping draft the bill.

Texas Microbrewer's Dream #2: San Antonio's Blue Star Brewery is actually a brew pub, which means they're not allowed to sell their product off premises. What's the point of showing off their brews at beer competitions if consumers can't find it on the store shelf? President Joey Villarreal just wants to capitalize off the buzz the beers create. At the very least, the legislature should allow him to peddle his own beer at his two off-site establishments, Joe Blue's and Joey's.

"I can bring beer in from northern California, but I can't take `Blue Star Beer` across the parking lot to Joe Blue's," Villarreal says.

Right now, the only way Blue Star can let customers take beer to go is by peddling 2.25-gallon "Party Pigs" and half-gallon "Growler" jugs `See "The Beer Pig" in "12 Days Left. 12 Gifts," December 13-19`. The flipside of Wagner's proposed change, depending on how it's written, is it would allow brew pubs to switch their licenses to market their beer commercially, while still keeping the pub.

"There's a lot of misconception right now," Villarreal says. "People come in and they see Blue Star Beer and they can't buy it in the store, so there's an impression, and it's a false impression, that 'Well, I guess the beer's not good enough to be in a grocery store.'"


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