A beer win

Texas Senate committee approves compromise bill that could change some rules for craft brewers

Compromise bill could open the tap for craft brewers

Texas' 83rd Legislature Regular Session was set up to be a big one for beer brewers in the Lone Star State, with lawmakers introducing a suite of legislation (specifically, Senate Bills 515 through 518 and SB 639) that would change how and where consumers get their craft beer.

As currently written, the (Prohibition-era) laws on the books prevent shipping breweries from selling beer to consumers on-site, and prohibit brewpubs, defined as pubs or restaurants that brew beer on the premises, from packaging and selling beers elsewhere.

 Houston-based beer drinkers advocacy group Open The Taps recognizes the result as "a reasonable, although far from perfect, compromise package." 

Craft beer advocates have been fighting to loosen these notoriously rigid restrictions for the overall health of the state's burgeoning brewing industry and for the convenience of consumers.

After a few weeks of tense negotiations between lawmakers, industry members and lobbyists, the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce met Tuesday to pass the bills — watered-down versions of the initial intentions.

Though not the type of sea change that beer enthusiasts hoped for when they started working on the legislation, Houston-based beer drinkers advocacy group Open The Taps recognizes the result as "a reasonable, although far from perfect, compromise package."

Included among the highlights of the "Craft Beer Bills" is a provision that will allow consumers to buy beer at craft breweries for on-premises consumption; the ability of a brewpub to distribute beers at retail outlets; the flexibility of craft brewers to self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels per year of beer and ale; and the equalization of distribution regulations for in- and out-of-state breweries (which will mean more out-of-state craft beer on the grocery store shelves).

Some small craft breweries — like the up-and-coming Town in City Brewing in the Heights — have been optimistically planning ahead for this loosening of rules. If SB 518 passes as currently written, craft brewers that produce less than 225,000 barrels per year will be able to sell up to 5,000 barrels per year to customers for on-site drinking.

In the meantime, some of the more detrimental provisions of the controversial SB 639 — a bill introduced by Dallas Sen. John Carona — have been tempered, such as the severability clause and a rule that would set a uniform distribution price (rather than a per-market basis).

Open The Taps wrote that the organization "would like to see [SB 639] amended to address the legitimate concerns of craft brewers." The legislation will next go on the senate calendar agenda and a house committee meeting.