After the bills supporting small breweries in Texas each died a slow, torturous death while being chipped away by compromise in the most recent legislative session, we drowned our sorrows, saddened to see our cynicism about the corporatocracy ruling our state proven correct once again, and tried to forget about it.
Not Ted Duchesne. He got motivated.
An avid craft-beer drinker and blogger, Duchesne and a handful of other Houston-area drinkers decided that they'd stood on the sidelines long enough. They formed Open The Taps, appointing Duchesne president, Chris White treasurer and Leslie Sprague secretary along with board members John Speights and Cathy Clark Rascoe. Rascoe is more than your average beer fan. She organized Houston Beer Week and is bringing the first Dallas Beer Week to town November 12-18.
Rascoe says the breweries have had to fight legislative battles on their own, and that it's time for consumers -- whom she calls the "fourth tier" of Texas' three-tier alcohol distribution system -- to help out and do what breweries can't. (The three-tier system requires producers to distribute only through wholesalers, who pass the suds onto retailers, then you.)
"Perhaps [brewers] can't go all-out as much as they would like to to, but a consumer advocacy group would have a lot of incentive and very little restriction on what we could do," she says.
Initially, the group is working on fund raising and signing up members, having recruited more than 60 people at a kick-off party in Houston. From 2 to 5 p.m. next Saturday, August 27, the group holds its first event at The Common Table with a sign-up table and volunteers to answer questions. Oh, and perhaps quaff a brewski or two.
Membership at the $35 level gets you a T-shirt. Join as part of the "100 For 100" group (consisting of 100 people from each of Texas' major cities) for $100 and you'll be part of the focus group helping to shape the organization's goals.
"For sure, we'd like to see the labeling laws changed," Rascoe says. "The difference between 'beer' and 'ale' is just preposterous, and it's keeping a lot of the smaller breweries out of the state, because if they want in, they would have to change their label just for this state."
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The organization also wants to eliminate the legal distinction between breweries and brewpubs, which forces brewers to choose whether they want to brew for customers of their own restaurant or bottle and distribute. She points out that other states see no need to hamstring small businesses this way. Stone Brewing Co. in California, for example, has a brewpub that not only serves its own beer but beers from competing breweries at its own restaurant while also being distributed for retail sale.
As for other legislative goals, she says, the organization will listening to members for direction.
Two of those members will be The Common Table's Corey Pond and Jeff Fryman. Pond says he and members of his staff will join at the 100 For 100 level. Also, the restaurant will donate $1 from each pint sold and offer a handful of Texas craft beers that day. On tap will be Rahr Gravel Road (an excellent altbier), (512) TWO (the Austin brewery's second-anniversary double IPA), Real Ale 15th Anniversary Ale (an imperial Russian stout), Saint Arnold Santo (a new black kölsch) and a cask of Saint Arnold Weedwacker.