Today is the last, best hope for the Texas Legislature’s push to allow craft breweries to sell their products to go.
After broadly bipartisan bills that would allow to-go sales from breweries stalled in House and Senate committees, brewery supporters are trying one final tactic, proposing an amendment to a bill that would reform the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The last-gasp amendment is beer to-go’s only hope after committee chairs in the two legislative bodies effectively suppressed the earlier bills.
“We’re trying to get everyone to call their representatives, tweet at them, get the word out that brewers and consumers really care about this bill,” says Caroline Wallace, deputy director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. “People are frustrated that a bill that has this much support couldn’t even get a hearing.”
To-go sales from breweries, which are legal in all 49 of the other United States, are prohibited in Texas because of powerful politicians’ ties with beer distributing companies, particularly Andrews Distributing in Dallas, national behemoth Ben E. Keith, L&F Distributors in the Rio Grande Valley and Del Papa Distributing on the Texas Gulf Coast.
These distributors argue that allowing a brewery to sell a six-pack to-go would damage their business selling beers wholesale to groceries. Other beer distributors, represented by the Beer Alliance of Texas, disagree; the BAT endorsed House Bill 672 and Senate Bill 312, colloquially known as “beer to go” bills, but to no avail.
Craft brewers’ new tactic is to ride the coattails of HB 1545, which authorizes the continuation of the TABC along with a slew of reforms to its processes. Austin-area Rep. Eddie Rodriguez filed an amendment to HB 1545 that would allow beer to-go sales.
“The amendment will come up, but there are a lot of procedural things that will happen as to whether it will get a true up or down vote. That’s why our focus for these next 24 hours is to get the word out,” Wallace says. Craft brewers are hoping that pressure from the beer-drinking public will turn the tide in their favor.
If HB 1545 becomes law, it will deliver relief to small breweries even if it doesn’t allow beer to go. The bill would streamline and shorten the state process for approving new beer labels, and it would eliminate the legal distinction between lagers and ales, which in Texas is based solely on alcohol by volume, not on brewing technique.
“There is a distinction between beer and ale by ABV,” Wallace explains. “If it’s over 5.5%, it’s an ale with a different tax rate. The (TABC) bill is proposing to make all beer beer. A lot of breweries don’t want to mess around with brewing beers around 5% because slight variation batch to batch might mean you have to pay a different tax.”
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If beer to-go fails today, its defeat will be largely due to the inaction of the Texas House and Senate committee chairs, who never allowed the original bills to receive hearings despite their broad support from both political parties and the general public.
In 2018, state Sen. Kelly Hancock, who represents North Richland Hills, Hurst, Euless, southern Irving, eastern Arlington and four craft breweries (Division, Legal Draft, Shannon and Turning Point), took more than $47,000 in campaign contributions from the alcohol industry, including $27,500 from Andrews, $9,127 from the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas and $1,500 from Anheuser-Busch.
Hancock is the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Business and Commerce, in which the craft beer reform bill, despite being a plank of both the Republican and Democratic party election platforms, was mysteriously never discussed or debated.
Neither Hancock nor his counterpart in the Texas House, Tracy O. King, responded to the Observer’s requests for comment.