During Texas' last legislative session, several laws were passed that changed the way distilleries in Texas can operate, opening up new opportunities for both consumers and distillers. All of these new laws took effect September 1, and the state's whiskey makers were quick to take full advantage of them.
The biggest change is one that allows distillers to sell a limited amount of spirits for both on-site and off-site consumption. That means you can try more than a half-ounce sample during a distillery tour, and even take home a bottle or two. And it means the only players in the food and beverage industry not allowed to sell product for off-site consumption are breweries.
Herman Marshall Whiskey of Garland doesn't actually offer tours at its distillery (yet), and co-founder Herman Beckley tells City of Ate he's not sure he can sell bottles even if he did.
"If you read the fine print of the laws," Beckley says, "it states that this only applies where local laws allow for hard liquor sales, which Garland doesn't."
Sure enough, buried in SB 905 is this caveat: "... if located in a wet area."
However, in the Town of the Cow, there's another great distillery, Firestone and Robertson, which plans to take advantage of this new law. And you should too: Earlier this year its TX Whiskey won Best American Craft Whiskey and Double Gold award at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco.
"Primarily this new law makes the entire experience at the distillery more satisfying," says Leonard Firestone, one of the founders. "Up until this point, we've only been able to provide a half ounce sample at tours, but now we can sell drinks and a limited number of bottles."
However, the law puts a tight cap on how much can be sold to each individual. The intent of the law was essentially not bite the hand that feeds by cannibalizing retail sells. Sales are regulated to two 750-milliliter bottles (or the equivalent) per customer within a 30-day period.
Most distillers are keeping the prices the same as retail stores, to avoid undercutting bars or retailers down the street.
"We're not competing with retailers," says Firestone, "but rather exposing our customers to our product so they can later return to the retail stores to purchase additional product."
And each distillery is required by law to track every purchase for reporting purposes (by, say, swiping your driver's license) to ensure customers don't exceed the two-bottle limit in 30 days.
It's a lot of paperwork and a bit of a hassle, but for Firestone, creating the experience is worth it.
Balcones Whisky in Waco is taking advantage of the law too, selling their hard-to-get bottles at distillery tours. They had an event last week and posted a note to their Facebook page about the next event: "What should we release [next]? Rum? 5th Anniversary Brimstone?"
Keep the gas tank full.