Customers at Armadillo Ale Works can enjoy sampling different brews in the brewery, but when it comes time to leave, customers can’t buy a six-pack the same way taste testers at wineries and distilleries can take home bottles.
Texas lawmakers are looking to close the gap for brewers to be able to sell their products on premise. Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, signed on as one of four authors on House Bill 672 to help support a free market, he said. The companion measure is Senate Bill 312.
“I think it’s a good bill as the craft-brewing industry has grown exponentially in Texas,” Stucky said. “We’re about free market and small business, and we want Armadillo to survive and do well. If they put in the hard work, they should be able to succeed.”
The new push has gained more momentum in years past, even though major lobbying groups oppose the measure, Stucky said.
The main issue is that distributors don’t want to lose out on business, because currently craft beer in Texas can hit store shelves only if a distributor is involved. Right now, Texas is the only state in the country that doesn’t allow production breweries to sell beer to go.
To try to change that, Bobby Mullins and Yianni Arestis, owners of Armadillo Ale Works, have been working with the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and its political action committee, CraftPAC, since 2013. With their brewery opening last June, this kind of legislation is imperative for business.
“We want consumers to get what they want, and people come in here all the time and we have to explain it to them. ... People are always confused,” Arestis said. “It’s something that would allow Texas craft breweries to grow and hire more people.”
It would also help their business from the research and development side, Mullins said. Looking at to-go sales would help them know what people want to buy when they’re grocery shopping or at the liquor store.
“We have a lot of beers that are only on tap here, and we have people say they would love to buy it as a six-pack to go, so it’s a great way to test things out before we decide to put things out in the market,” Mullins said.
Mullins said he’s heard of Ben E. Keith distributors pushing for customers to sign petitions against the bills, signaling a larger fight between small brewers like him and the major companies that control distribution throughout the state.
Craig Woodcock, general counsel, secretary and vice president at Ben E. Keith Co., said he was unaware of any petitions to oppose the legislation and deferred any comment about the bills to the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. Representatives of the trade association did not return requests for comment.
One of the biggest arguments against the change is if breweries want to distribute, they can apply for a brew pub license with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. However, that change would impact how much beer they can distribute. Under state rules, a brew pub, such as Denton County Brewing Co., can produce 10,000 barrels per year, while a production brewery can make 225,000. A barrel is equivalent to 328.8 12-ounce beers.
For Armadillo, this suggestion is frustrating because wineries and distilleries don’t have to make any changes to sell their products on site.
“You’re allowing it for these other alcoholic beverages, but not beer, which has the least amount of alcohol,” Mullins said.
The bills are still in the early stages and haven’t yet had hearings or been voted on in committees.
“There’s a lot of support for it, especially in the House,” Stucky said. “There’s 31 House Republicans and Democrats on the bills, and it clearly has support; we just need the process to play out in committees and on the floor.”