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Boozy Bills: Measures in the Texas Lege Would Let Brewers, Wineries and Distilleries Give Customers More of What They Crave 

click to enlarge RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
After a disappointing 2017 meeting of the Texas Legislature, beer, wine and spirits makers are all hoping to win something this session that will boost their businesses and meet growing customer demand.

Lawmakers are expected to introduce bills this session to let customers depart from brewery tours with to-go beer, allow wineries to offer more product via shipments and takeaway, and permit distilleries to sell customers addtional bottles in their tasting rooms.

Beer To Go

Companion bills have been filed in the House and Senate with Democrat and Republican sponsors that would give microbreweries the right to sell beer to-go from their tasting rooms, something their brewpub brethren, wineries and distilleries in the state already can do.

The fight for to-go sales began 12 years ago but has been rebuffed by powerful lobbying forces, even as state after state changed their laws.

“[The newly filed] HB 672 corrects a glaring disparity in the state’s alcohol laws and gives Texans the freedom to purchase beer to go when they visit a local brewery, just like they can when they visit a Texas winery, distillery or brewpub,” said bill sponsor Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. “The fact is, 49 other states already allow consumers to purchase beer to-go when they visit a local brewery. Texas should be a leader when it comes to supporting small businesses, not the last horse to cross the finish line.”

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, who is carrying the companion bill SB 312, says it would be an economic boon to her district, because of its large number of breweries. Current laws restricting the sales are “unnecessary government overreach,” she said.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild points out that the bills are not asking for an increase on the amount of beer that can be sold annually from a microbrewery tap room, just that it be inclusive for on-premise and off-premise consumption. Breweries making less than 225,000 barrels of beer per year can sell up to 5,000 barrels per year in their tasting rooms for on-premise consumption.
“The fact that both parties expressed unequivocal support for beer to go in their 2018 platforms demonstrates the bipartisan, grassroots momentum surrounding this issue,” said Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the guild, which represents about 250 Texas breweries.

“We would love to sell you a case of beer to go,” said Eugene Simor, CEO and founder of San Antonio’s Alamo Beer Co. “It’s a memory from the brewery tour, and you’re sharing that with your friends and building excitement, not just about the next visit, but to buy the beer in stores and bars.”

Simor said additional money from to-go sales would go back into the business and developing the brand to the benefit of the brewer and the distributor.

Lifting Wine Limits

Wineries already can sell wine to go from their tasting rooms and ship directly to consumers who are members of their wine clubs. What they want to see this legislative session is the cap on those sales removed completely.

To that end, Buckingham introduced SB 313, which would remove the 35,000-gallon annual cap on to-go and direct-to-consumer shipping sales. That cap does not include on-premise consumption sales.

Kimberly Frost, general counsel to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, said only a few wineries in Texas have come close to this cap.
“It’s more galling than anything to have this cap to success,” she said.

Wholesalers need not fear the measure, Frost added, because only “super niche” consumers get all of their wine, beer or spirits directly from the maker. “Everybody’s grocery store (or package store) is closer than the brewery, winery or distillery.”

More Bottles for Distillers

Texas distillers are looking to improve both the customer experience and their own sales with an increase in the number of bottles they’re able to sell per-visit from their tasting rooms. They are fine with the existing cap of 3,500 gallons per year but argue that both consumers and their own bottom lines would be better served with no restrictions on the number of bottles.

A bill to make that change is expected to be filed in mid-January, said Mike Cameron, president of the Texas Distilled Spirits Association and founder and CEO of Devil’s River Whiskey.

“No one has reached the bottle limit yet, since to-go sales were approved in 2013,” Cameron said.

Cameron pointed out that lifting the cap on the number of bottles per visit would benefit customers who have to choose only two when there might be six expressions of a spirit that they want to take home, including special tap-room-only bottles.

“The consumer is really driving a lot of this,” he added.

To bolster its case before the Lege, the association has commissioned an economic impact study from the University of Texas at San Antonio that will begin with a survey this week of 150 distilleries across the state.

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