Don't Roll Out the Barrel Just Yet

Microbrewers between a rock and a hard place at the Lege

Texas microbrewers are between a rock and a hard place. For the past two sessions, bills that would let them sell their products at their breweries have met stiff resistance from the powerful Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, which fiercely opposes any changes to Texas' three-tier producer-distributor-retailer system. They finally worked this out this session with House Bill 602, which would allow the brewers to give away 12-packs at the conclusion of a paid brewery tour.

But to get WBDT on board, the bill was amended to limit this privilege to brewers who produce less than 75,000 barrels per year, as the distributors didn't want to lose lucrative macrobrew sales (think Bud-Miller-Coors) to brewery tours. The bill sailed through the House, but on Tuesday, another powerful giant rose up in opposition.

"The original version of House Bill 602 we were very much in favor of," testified Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Mark Bordas. But he said he was against the amended version because of the 75,000 cap. "I don't believe that there's any state interest in discriminating against Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors, or for that matter, Spoetzl, which brews Shiner, which as a result of the cap, are all excluded from this legislation."

Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville said the point of the legislation was to help small businesses (such as the eight microbreweries in Austin) grow to the point that they would no longer need the promotional value of brewery tours. Lucio, the bill's Senate sponsor, left HB 602 pending in committee "while we work with stakeholders." Meanwhile, the window to pass the bill is closing as the 82nd session nears its end. (Other bills that would have benefited Texas brewers – such as HB 2436, which would have allowed true on-site sales, or HB 660, which have allowed brewpubs to distribute off-premises – are stuck in committee and presumably dead, since the deadline to get House bills out of committee was Monday.)

"We are continuing to work hard to pass HB 602," said Brock Wagner of Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing, who spearheaded this and previous bills. "We knew that A-B would prefer that the 75,000 [barrel] cap be removed from the bill. Honestly we would prefer that the cap be removed, but at this point we want to see the bill move forward and are willing to do so with or without the cap."

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