In a victory for craft breweries across Texas, the state Senate on Wednesday night passed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sunset bill, which, if signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, will lead to significant changes in the way beer is sold across the Lone Star State.
In other words, if you've always dreamed of being able to roll up to a brewery and pick up some suds, dreams quite possibly do come true.
This is all because the TABC, the agency that regulates alcoholic beverage sales statewide, came up for its Sunset Review during the 86th Biennial Legislative Session. These state-mandated reviews by the Lege give state lawmakers the chance to adjust how an entity is functioning once every decade or so. The Lege can opt eliminate any outdated laws or provisions in a bill, or simply eliminate the entire agency by not getting a sunset bill through before the session closes at the end of May every other year. In this case, lawmakers took the opportunity presented by HB 1545 to tackle a number of things, including some issues with beer sales, which have become increasingly pressing as the craft brewery industry has continued to bloom in Texas.
Legislators had added amendments onto the sunset bill back in April to allow manufacturing breweries like Saint Arnold Brewing Co., 8th Wonder Brewing Co., and other larger producers to sell beer to-go from their taprooms. This amendment had been stripped from the bill as it moved from the state House to the Senate over the past month, but it was restored Wednesday, just before the Senate vote. (Sadly, for those who had hoped to also be able to start buying beer and wine before noon on Sundays along with their groceries, the Senate did not opt to add that provision back on Wednesday before sending the bill back to the House.)
So how did the Lege finally get to the point of letting you to pick up a six-pack from your fave local brewery? It's is mainly because the lobbyists behind the two sides of the beer industry had reached an accord. While the battle between the state's craft beer community and its beverage distribution lobby over to-go sales has historically been contentious, tensions have cooled over the past few months and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild reached an agreement allowing to-go sales up to a daily limit per customer.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican, was the author of the to-go amendment. “We stand our best when we stand together, and we come together on issues that have been divisive in the past,” Buckingham stated during the debate over the addition, according to the Texas Tribune. “Our constituents elected us to be bold — and with that, I give you beer to go, baby.”
Austin Democrat State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, one of the ones who was pushing to get the to-go language added, noted in a statement that this means a win in the "uphill battle" Texas craft brewers have been fighting to get themselves on the same level with brewers in the other 49 states who have enjoyed this avenue of sales for years now.
Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing Co. is certain this development will only bring benefits to the craft brewing industry. "Experience has shown that law changes like this help create jobs and increase the total amount of craft beer sold by breweries, distributors and retailers," Wagner said. "With the passage of this bill, we can get back to focusing on what we love: brewing beer and building community."
John Holler of Holler Brewing is elated by the news. "This September, we'll finally be able to say YES to customers when they ask to take our tank-fresh Holler beer home with them," he said.
Now the bill, with all of its alterations—including a provision that will allow individuals to go from owning just five liquor stores to 250—must go back to the House for approval, and then to Abbott's desk. If it comes through the final steps of the process unscathed, the new rules will go into effect this September.