Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beer Bills in the 82nd Texas Legislature

Okay Texas beer drinkers, once again the Legislature is back in session – and it's time for you citizens to stand up for those who provide us with our favorite tasty, tasty beverage.

So far I've found two filed bills related to beer:

HB 602: This is the return of what has become an every-other-year (that's how often the Lege meets) cause among microbrewery fans, a bill to allow brewers to sell their product on the premises. Currently in Texas, brewers (not including brewpubs) must sell their product through wholesalers. Previous attempts to get this right — one that winemakers have, but brewers do not (!) — have been killed or at least delayed in committee thanks to the lobbying group Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. The bill was introduced yesterday by Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston (who, I recently discovered, is married to someone with whom I attended high school!). Technically, the bill won't allow direct sales, but it will allow up to two cases of beer as a parting gift upon completion of brewery tour — for which admission may be charged.

HB 660: This bill is sort of the inverse of HB 602. Whereas microbreweries cannot sell directly to consumers, brewpubs can sell only to consumers — in other words, they can't put their product on store shelves. This bill would allow them to sell to wholesalers, so this bill would allow them the right to sell off the premises. This bill was introduced today by Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio (who, as far as I know, is not married to any of my former high school classmates).

What can you do to help make these perfectly sensible laws pass? Contact your legislators and politely tell them that you are a voter, a constituent, and you support these bills. Start with your state representative, since the bill is in the House. Then keep coming back to this blog, and I'll update you on when the bills have been referred to a committee, when the bills will be heard in committee (you may even consider showing up to testify in support of the bills, especially if you're in Austin), and if the bills make it to the Senate, I'll continue following them through the process. (Or, if you're a do-it-yourself type, the Texas Legislature's website allows you to get e-mail alerts on a bill's status sent directly to you.)


austinarborworks said...

done and done. FWIW.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit uniformed---so a brewpub makes and sells on site and a microbrewery brews, no pub on site?

The wholesalers don't want folks to buy straight from the microbrewery so they can get a cut? But isn't that a paradox, i.e. "wholesale?"

Anonymous said...

RE: HB 602
This is a flawed bill. Brewers, as well as the supporting community, should withhold support. HB 602 asks brewers and the public to engage in a strangely dishonest commercial relationship. Allowing brewers traditional on-premise sales seems a more rational approach. Many states have better laws after which Texas might model its own. We should not be disappointed if this bizarre compromise bill fails.

Lee said...

Anonymous #2: Yes, of course it's a flawed bill, but brewers would be stupid to withhold support. The perfect bill you want was tried back in 2007 and got killed because of the wholesalers lobby.

No, it's not right that one powerful lobbyist should be able to shut down something that we beer lovers want, but that's reality. So this is a more limited bill that hopefully will draw less opposition from the wholesalers.

With the very little power that microbrewers have, they'll have to either settle for half a loaf or none at all. I'd rather get the half a loaf and give brewers a small tool to boost their business.

Remember, in politics — as in many other things — the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Anonymous said...

Stupid might be overstating it a bit.

Brewers would have to make investments to accommodate the public without predictable remuneration. Many brewers would love to create space for the public to gather and enjoy beer. On-premise sales would provide brewers an adequate revenue stream to build beautiful beer gardens. This proposal? Unpredictable.

As you note, previous efforts have failed due to wholesaler opposition. This bill has support of the smaller of the wholesaler groups. This is indication of a moderating of the wholesalers reflexive opposition to everything. Perhaps as more wholesalers develop relationships with Texas craft brewers, their attitudes will further moderate.

Creating space for the brewing community and the public to interact is one of the few remaining steps to building a truly vibrant Texas beer community. We cannot afford to build it incorrectly. No on HB 602.

Gonz said...

I support HB 602 knowing its not perfect.
Maybe I'm a bit biased as a brewery employee or maybe I am just tired of having to explain to people that toured our facility and had a great time and are very eager to fill their fridge with our beer that they must leave the BREWERY(the place where beer is made) to buy beer at a grocery store.
This law is predictable in its reach. In fact most breweries already have a space for the public to meet and drink, this would simply allow breweries to re coop more of the cost of all the beer they are giving away(though a far stretch from profiting).
Is the law perfect? Not at all, but its an improvement. The chances that any new legislation is passed this year is slim to none anyways. The point is awakening the fledgling Texas craft community.
If we get the imperfect law passed, great-- its a notch in our belt. This is KO bout, it may go 20 rounds.

Anonymous said...

I, too, work at a production brewery in TX. 602 is a terrible bill. 660 is far better, for it not only includes brewpubs (which 602 excludes, but benefits micros as well. 660 allows micros (up to 75K barrels per annum) to change their license to brewpub, allowing them to continue their production and self distribution PLUS self on site direct to consumer up to 5000 barrels per annum.
660 has a more clear cut goal, is open to almost every TX brewer, and has a more far reaching benefit to consumer and producer. Certainly, many brewers would have to possibly rezone to be able to sell onsite, but 602 only benefits those brewers that bottle currently. 602 has a very self-serving myopic view, and opens some negotiating that could be detrimental to all of the micros that self-distribute, PLUS does nothing for all of the hard working brewpubs in the state.

NO TO 602! YES TO 660!

Anonymous said...

602 only benefits micros that bottle. It still doesn't allow a brewery to sell a pint to a visitor to drink. 660 DOES allow that.

Davis said...

Maybe "Anonymous" would like to tell us his real name. I can't imagine his mother really called him that!

Yes on 602 and Yes on 660

Dan Keeney said...

I must say I don't understand why some in the craft beer community insist on seeing this as an either/or proposition. It would be very risky to put all your effort into HB 660, which everyone would admit is an aggressive bill. Would it be great if it passed? You bet. Have they made any strides in getting the distributors to back off their likely opposition? Not as far as I am aware. We know that HB 602 has the blessing of at least some distributors and therefore has a chance of at least being heard. But I have not heard any supporters of HB 602 say they don't support HB 660 -- just the other way around. Support BOTH!

Disclosure: I help Saint Arnold with PR.

Anonymous said...

RE: why do supporters of 602 also support 660, but not always the other way around?

1) Some in the community feel, 602 does nothing to advance, or worse, damages their interest by setting back efforts to eventually secure the right to sell a pint at their breweries. If wholesalers bend on 602, they may be less likely to move next time when brewers go for proper on-premise sales.

2) 602 has been badly politicked. Due largely to the strangeness of the system 602 sets up, the community is not of one mind as to whether this law is an improvement over the current situation. This lack of unity is a serious flaw in the political effort to pass 602. Politics is hard. 602 just hasn't done the work to earn the community's support.

3) Now is an optimistic time in the Texas craft beer world and 602 is discordant with the zeitgeist. Older brewers who have suffered many legislative defeats at the hands wholesalers may feel this is the best deal possible. Businesspeople who were optimistic enough to build packaging breweries during the 'great recession' may not wish to have such an unambitious deal dictated to them. Again, 602 supporters failed to build consensus.

I'm sure there are other reasons but those are a few.