I Love Beer chatted with Brian Peters, brewmaster at Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que about the festival. Although his business can’t actually participate, he’s a member of the organizing committee for the festival, which is being produced by the Young Men’s Business League of Austin and benefiting Austin Sunshine Camps. It was an interesting conversation in which he shared his views on Austin’s place in the larger craft brewing universe, how Texas alcohol laws are holding our state back, and what treasures will be found at the fest:
I Love Beer: Do you think Texas is ahead of or behind the curve on the craft beer revolution?
Brian Peters: It’s very geographic, isn’t it? I would say we’re making up some lost ground. I think we were behind and we’re catching up. Probably within a year we’ll be where I believe we should have been years ago.
Are we ahead of certain areas? Yeah. The Midwest, we probably are getting close to about average with them. We’ll never catch up to Seattle or Portland or Northern California. I think Portland has fifty-something breweries in the city?
Do I think we’re behind? Not anymore. So Austin, with what I see being planned, we’ll see if we can absorb this many breweries, to be honest. It’s more than what we might be able to handle. But are we getting recognition finally that we certainly needed? Yes, it’s becoming where people recognize that we do have good beer here.
ILB: Why will we never catch up?
Peters: Well … to catch up — what does that mean? I don’t think we’ll be a Portland ever. I don’t think there will be many Portlands, or San Diegos. But I think for the demographic and the size of our market, we’ll be solidly in that second tier. But there’s only room for a couple of San Diegos or Portlands.
We’re getting there. When you go into almost any bar and you start to see the majority of the taps are local taps, then you’ll know we’re getting there. And we’re not quite there yet. But it’s an exciting time, for sure.
Hard to say, though, what “catching up” means. I don’t know if we can ever be as big as Portland, and I don’t know if we need to be. But say Portland has 50 breweries and we have 20 — well damn, I just went to Chicago and they only have, like, four brewpubs. And Houston has nothing, you know. So in a way, I think we’re doing pretty good. I think we’ll have more than our share of production breweries, it looks like, and I’m hoping we’ll get a few more brewpubs.
[Editor’s note: Actually, Beermapping.com says Chicago has eight, but still surprisingly low number for a city that size. There are, however, many brewpubs in Chicago’s suburbs. As for Houston, despite the growing presence of Saint Arnold, the craft beer scene there is shockingly sparse, with no brewpubs.]
ILB: What’s helping or hurting the craft brewing industry in Texas?
Peters: Well certainly, the regulations that [the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission] has to enforce are not helping. [The Legislature] took away the tax break for small brewers, and that hurt. The rules are in place, and they’re unfortunate, [and] not necessarily sympathetic at all to the small craft brewer. They are rules that were either designed before craft brewing existed or they’re specifically geared to where the larger breweries have the upper hand.
But the TABC comes out as the boogeyman. They’re just enforcing the laws that we create. We need to change the laws. And the laws right now as they’re written and being enforced prevent brewpubs for sure from excelling at all. We can’t distribute, and that’s such a limitation. Production-wise, for large-scale breweries, not being able to sell anything on-site is also challenging. [Ed. note: Go here for my coverage of the failed efforts to change Texas laws regarding microbreweries and brewpubs]
But everything else, it seems like the market’s ready. People are dying to get their hands on this stuff, and we have decent, pretty creative, good brewers and breweries. So you take away some of the limitations from the TABC and there’s no limit to what I think we can accomplish both in Texas and nationally.
ILB: Why is Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que not on the list of participants?
Peters: It’s against the law right now, based on interpretation of the TABC that you can’t have two permitees at the event. Josh [Wilson] from Draught House is pulling the permit, and it’s only by extension of his license that he’s allowed to have beer there. That might make other brewpubs upset, but I’m sorry, I based it basically on the fact that he’s good to go because [he has a license for] beer and wine.
That’s another area where [if] you want to talk about limitations of where we are in the big world — a festival where we can’t have brewpubs? That’s kind of cramping our style. We still have 18, possibly 19 breweries [in the festival] now, but you know, we could double that with brewpubs. That would be pretty exciting. But even then, at 18 or 19 breweries, we are what I believe is the largest collection of Texas brewers ever at a festival. Even the Brewmasters one that just happened [Brewmasters International Beer Festival in Galveston] didn’t have everybody from Texas. TCBF will have Twisted X, even people that haven’t released a beers at a festival before. That’s pretty exciting.
ILB: Maybe you just answered this question, but why should Austin beer lovers attend this festival?
Peters: There’s going to be new releases, stuff that’s not even been in the market yet, from both the old and new breweries. We have some breweries’ first time at a festival, and a lot of upstarts from the past year that maybe people haven’t tried yet. The whole goal was to highlight Texas craft beer, and this is a spotlight for some of these newer releases and limited releases. TCBF is asking the brewers to make about a third of what they bring be limited release, seasonal, or new release beers. You should be able to find things that you’ve never had before.