The Texas brewing industry had a major win in the Legislature in 2019 with beer-to-go from microbrewery taprooms, making it possible for visitors to take home a liquid souvenir as wineries have been able to do since 2005.
This session, the trade group representing most of the state’s 350-plus breweries spent the time thanking lawmakers who made to-go beer a reality after 13 years and seven regular sessions.
Although it was a bit of a victory lap for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the group still worked behind the scenes to support several bills that passed into law this cycle.
During the pandemic, emergency rules from the governor allowed restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages on a to-go basis. Senate Bill 298 and House Bill 1024, bills nicknamed “margaritas to go,” both passed and were signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott to make that ruling permanent.
Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the guild, said they worked with the Texas Restaurant Association to ensure beer was included in the language alongside margaritas and other mixed drinks.
On another front, Texas breweries with a brewpub license have been able to give samples of their wares at retailers for years, but it was only by the grace of a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rule only loosely grounded in statute.
House and Senate bills signed into law by the governor take effect Sept. 1. The measure also allows brewery representatives to serve the beer and talk about it with customers at retail locations.
Interpretation of the laws by TABC, however, may need more tweaking. Breweries and event organizers say they frequently get different answers to what they can and can’t do depending on what office or individual they talk to at the regulatory agency.
During a personal experience several years ago, a major tourist attraction organized a beer festival where I served as master of ceremonies. They received numerous conflicting messages on what they could and couldn’t do and several times had to shift how the event would work.
By the time of the shindig, they were under restrictions not to point out the breweries involved (even though many had pitched canopies with logos around the grounds with their representatives), not to recognize any brewers there and not to tell festival-goers where the profits from the event were being donated.
A different license for the grounds would have meant an entirely different set of rules.
Calling out the agency foibles, I invited folks to hug a brewer. I said, “I can’t point them out, but look for guys with big beards.”
There were few women in Texas brewing at the time and the trend of bushy or long beards was in its infancy in Texas. One man approached me with his family and thanked me for the couple of hugs he had received that day thanks to his beard.
He was not a brewer.
The TCBG is working with the TABC on the ongoing rulemaking process that began in 2019 with the Sunset Bill reauthorizing the existence of the TABC.
The other bills supported this year by the TCBG were economic in nature.
Senate Bill 3 provided more oversight of the state’s electric grid and fixes to failed communication and coordination between regulatory agencies during the big Texas freeze in February, Vallhonrat said.
Reliability of electric, natural gas and water supply are critical to making beer.
The pandemic left its mark on most businesses and breweries and beer bars were no exception. To stay afloat and keep beer flowing to retailers and for curbside pickup, many breweries took advantage of federal Payroll Protection Program loans.
State lawmakers passed a bill allowing PPP loans and expenses paid from those funds to be deducted from the Texas Franchise Tax owed.
“This bill represents a substantial victory for Texas brewers and other businesses, as every dollar matters as we continue to dig out of the financial hole of the pandemic,” Vallhonrat said.
Travis E. Poling has written about beer and business issues in the San Antonio area and across Texas for more than three decades. He is the co-author of two books on Texas beer, including “San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint.”