Texas on Tap

Texas was the nation's top beer producing state in 1994, according to Matthew Hein, the Director of Statistical and Information Services at the Beer Institute in Washington, D.C. The new statistics which the Institute will release this week make no distinction between brewpubs, microbreweries, and national giants, but according to Hein, such distinctions are fuzzy anyway. For instance, we can't call Celis a microbrewery anymore. A microbrewery is defined as a brewery producing less than 15,000 barrels a year. This year, Celis produced 20,000 barrels. Next year, they will expand their production to 45,000 barrels. The statistics also show that Texas employs more people in the beer business than any other state. We're also near the top in beer consumption per capita, tied with Wisconsin for number four. (Nevada and a few other states with small populations top the list). California is a distant 39th in per capita consumption.

However you read the numbers, Texas comes out as the Medici family of the American beer renaissance. But there is more at stake than just bragging rights here. As the nation's top beer producer, Texas is in a position to define the new American beer culture, just as California has defined American wine culture.

Thanks to the Ol'boyasaurauses who run the TABC, the brewpub movement got off to a late start in Texas. But we are quickly making up for lost time. Texas brewpubs and beer restaurants have a good chance to move to the forefront of the national scene, just as Austin-based Celis has quickly become one of the nation's foremost small breweries. And if the new brewpubs and microbrewery beers have changed our drinking habits, they've also raised a lot of questions. Are restaurants' beer lists going to become as important as their wine lists? Does the rise in microbrewery beer sales mean that beer is replacing wine on the nation's dinner tables? And how are these trends going to change the way we eat?

Articles in food magazines are trying to sort out the ramifications of these trends and suggest new ways to match food and beer. But in the end, the answer to all these questions can only be supplied by beer drinkers themselves. As one of the nation's leading beer markets, we Texans may well be calling the shots. And in the process of redefining beer cuisine, Texas restaurants may have a chance to get some of the national attention they have always craved. -- RW

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