Craft brewers gain major ally but battle in legislature continues


AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a major truce, when lawmakers leave town in May, Texans might be able to walk out of any brewery with a case of beer. 

Since prohibition ended, Texas lawmakers used a “three-tiered” system to regulate alcohol: brewers, distributors and retailers. All three must remain independent from one another. That’s why a truce representing two separate tiers can change the landscape in Texas.

The Beer Alliance — which represents distributors in the capitol — struck a deal with the Craft Brewers Guild, which lobbies for craft breweries. 

“It’s a huge ally. We’ve never had an alliance quite like this,” said Adam DeBower, the cofounder of Austin Beerworks and one of the leaders in the Craft Beer Guild and PAC. “There have been so many years of us always butting heads on the same issue. I think that their appetite for butting heads is probably reduced.” 

Both groups support a bill that would allow someone to buy up to two cases of beer a day from any manufacturer in Texas. Now, you can only do that at brew-pubs. In exchange, craft brewers will not lobby for major tier changes for 12 years.

Brew-pubs can sell beer to-go. Breweries with manufacturing licenses — like Austin Beerworks — cannot. 

With competition from wine and hard liqour, DeBower wants to encourage people to buy as much beer as possible. “This is our opportunity to demonstrate value to all three tiers and to consumers and to get that beer into as many hands as possible.”

But the other middle tier group is not onboard.

“We will continue to defend the Texas system which emphasizes fair free market competition and has created the healthiest, most competitive beer market in the world,” wrote Tom Spilman from the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas to KXAN. “The claim that manufacturers can’t sell beer to-go is untrue. It is only a handful of the states largest manufacturers that cannot, which is in-line within most states.”

Tuesday morning, the two groups will hold a press conference to discuss the next steps at the capitol. They will be joined by the two authors of the changes: Austin Republican Senator Dawn Buckingham and Austin Democrat Representative Eddie Rodriguez.

One of the major members of the Beer Alliance is the man behind Silver Eagle Distributors — John Nau, the largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the country. Nau was Governor Abbott’s campaign treasurer and is one of the most prolific donors in Texas politics.

“We have committed to working with our friends in the craft-manufacturing segment on sensible regulations that provide for a stable and predictable three-tier market in Texas that continues to be recognized as the gold standard for regulatory structures across the country,” wrote JP Urrabazo from the Beer Alliance.

While the path is easier for the effort, it does not guarantee victory. A bill must pass the Senate, then the House and then go get signed by the Governor. Supporters of the change expect a tougher go in the House.

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