Controversial Texas taproom bill heads to governor’s desk

Brewery (KXAN Photo)
Brewery (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s trouble brewing in the Texas craft beer business.

House Bill 3287 passed through the Senate over the weekend, and after a few last amendments Wednesday, now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. But not without a fight from locals involved in the craft beer industry who say this bill puts a ceiling on success.

Under the new bill, brewers would have to sell their beer to a distributor, then buy it back in order to sell it in their own taproom. It only affects companies that get bought out by big conglomerates, also known as the “Big 3” — Anheuser-Busch InBEV, MillerCoors and Heineken.

The bill also only applies to companies producing more than 175,000 barrels a year.

There are also exceptions to the rule. If a brewery was operating a taproom prior to Feb. 1, 2017, they are grandfathered in. And it restricts taprooms to 5,000 barrels a year per taproom sale site.

Colorado based Oskar Blues Brewery, which has an outpost in Austin, could have been affected by the bill.

Nationally, the brewery produced roughly 300,000 barrels of beer over the last year. But they are a privately run business and were even called out during the bills amendment process Wednesday, noting they will not be affected by the bill.

Still, Oskar Blues Marketing Manager, Dan Wiersema, says it’s a way for the distributors to make big money.

“This bill is about to become law that severely restricts Texas craft beer,” he said. “We have a guy that wheels the keg in and hooks it up and we serve beer and that’s the way it should be without the expense.”

Author of the bill, State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, wants to highlight that the change only addresses a small percentage of larger craft brewers when acquired by a large manufacturer.

“That’s the whole point. No one is even close to the number that the senate amended and put in there. The 175,000 cap. It’s almost unattainable,” Goldman said.

Goldman says he has one intention in filing and supporting this bills movement, to protect the craft beer industry from big corporate companies becoming too powerful.

“If my competitor down the street is being purchased by an international brewery, we are no longer the same. It’s now part of a major internationally owned conglomerate that has the resources out there to truly put me out of business,” Goldman said. “Since 2013, some major international breweries have come in and started purchasing some of the craft breweries. We don’t consider them craft breweries anymore.”

Some in the craft brew industry say this move will likely discourage growth of the business in Texas.

“You’re going to see people who want to start a craft brewery in Texas take a long hard look at the state and say is this fertile ground for investment,” Wiersema said. “If you’re a Texas craft brewer that has aspirations for growing, it says don’t get too big, don’t get too successful because there are going to be restrictions on that.”

In relation to this, Texas is the only state that doesn’t allow the sale of “beer-to-go” from breweries. In 2015, State Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler introduced a bill to change that. But the bill died in the chamber.

Craft breweries got a big win last August. That’s when a state judge ruled three breweries, including Austin’s Live Oak could sell the rights to distribute their beer.

Perhaps the biggest win for breweries in the recent past was in 2013, when lawmakers passed a bill allowing them to sell beers to drink from their tap rooms.

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