Will 2019 Be The Year Texas Breweries Can Sell Beer-To-Go?
New legislation is brewing in the state Capitol that would allow Texans to buy beer-to-go from craft breweries.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, have filed bipartisan companion bills (SB 312 and HB 672) that would allow craft breweries to sell packaged beer products at their taprooms for "off-site" consumption.
"It's 2019 and people are used to being able to get the things they want," Rodriguez said. "It's illogical to be able to buy a bottle of wine or spirit from a distillery or winery and take it home, but you can't for whatever reason go to your favorite brewery and decide you want to take a couple of bottles or a growler home."
Texas is the only state where customers can't buy a growler or six-pack to-go from local breweries, according to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
"You can come to Saint Arnold, you can have a pint of beer, you can drink and enjoy it here, but you can't take a six-pack home," said Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold Brewery Co. Wagner said the brewery frequently gets requests from visitors asking if they can fill a growler.
"We'll have to explain to them that we cannot and they're usually confused," he said. "To explain to somebody the byzantine laws in Texas regarding beer, you basically need to sit down and have one to two pints just to get through them all."
Under current laws in Texas, brewers who make less than 225,000 barrels a year are allowed to sell up to 5,000 barrels of the beer they produce to consumers for onsite consumption in tasting rooms. Under the proposed laws, this would be expanded to include sales for offsite consumption as well.
Both Wagner and Rodriguez said they see legalizing beer-to-go sales as helping Texas' craft industry expand, especially as beer tourism continues to grow globally.
"There's a proliferation of craft brewers in Texas; it's a growing industry," Rodriguez said. "In fact, it benefits the Texas economy by $4.5 billion."
Between 2005 and 2017, craft breweries in Texas grew 990 percent from just 20 to 218, attributed in part to legislation passed in 2013 that lifted some of the regulations previously in place.
When it comes to the number of breweries per capita, though, Texas still lags behind most of the country, ranking number 46, according to the Brewers Association.
In Houston, Wagner said he's seen firsthand how the craft industry has expanded over the past couple of decades. "Fifteen years ago we were the only craft brewery in the city of Houston," he said. "Today, there's over 50 in the metropolitan area."
Wagner said he thinks legalizing beer-to-go sales will continue to help the industry grow, in part by acting as a marketing tool. "They'll have a story about, 'Hey, this is the beer that I had at the brewery,' and then the next time that they go to the grocery store or liquor store that is more likely to be the beer that they might purchase," he said.
In the past, beer-to-go laws have been opposed by Texas' beer distributors, which say it would hurt their business and disrupt the three-tiered system that separates manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Wholesale beer distributors are one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Texas, and one of the reasons that Texas' beer laws have stayed stringent. An analysis by The Texas Tribune found that between 2013 and 2016 beer distributors and executives donated $8.8 million to political candidates and action committees.
Houston Public Media reached out to The Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents distributors, about the recent bills, but it had no comment at the time of publication.