Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
On Sept. 1, those who enjoy craft beer, fine wines, and spirits of all kinds might have new reasons to raise their glasses in a toast to the Texas Legislature.
That’s when several new rules for alcohol sales go into effect, including where you can buy craft beer, how many liquor stores one person can own, and how you can order wine and beer brought right to your door.
The laws come from legislation introduced during the 86th regular session and a sunset bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June that authorized the most significant modernization of the Alcohol Beverage Code since it was written in 1935.
The sunset bill gave the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the agency responsible for regulating, inspecting, and taxing the production, sale, and use of alcoholic beverages, another 10 years of life and presented brewers, distillers, and retailers with greater access to their customers.
“This legislation represents the most comprehensive and positive reform of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code in a generation, while serving the entire industry from the manufacturer down to the consumer,” stated Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat in May after the Senate passed the bill in a unanimous vote.
Under the new law, craft breweries will be allowed to sell one 24-pack of beer per customer per day, or nine 32-ounce crowlers (like a growler, but in an aluminum can), allowing beer drinkers to take home what they sample at microbreweries. Texas is the last state in the nation to allow such beer-to-go sales.
For craft beer producers, the changes streamline the permitting process and stimulate the growing Texas craft beer industry by giving it greater access to the retail market.
“It will also give us the ability to sell product here that is not available at retailers,” said Alamo Beer founder and President Eugene Simor. “So when we do a specialty beer or a limited-edition beer, we can now sell those here to go.”
Texas law already allowed brewpubs, such as Weathered Souls Brewing, as well as wineries and distilleries to sell their product by the glass. But starting Sept. 1, you can head over to a manufacturing brewery such as Alamo Beer, lift a glass, then for the first time, purchase a case for home.
The Beer Alliance of Texas and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas opposed sales of take-home brews in the past. They sought to protect the three-tier system that separates beer manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
Beer-to-go evens the playing field among the different types of alcohol producers, Simor said, given that wineries and distilleries have long been able to sell directly to consumers.
Weathered Souls owner Mike Holt said he believes the effort to get the law passed unified the industry, though the scales are still tipped in favor of distributors and retailers, given the law’s limits on how much beer can be sold at craft breweries. Members of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild formed CraftPAC, a political action committee to support the legislation, and celebrated its passing into law.
Beer and Ale
Another change to beer rules is one that combines the beer and ale beverage designations into one “malt beverage designation.” While the two products look, taste and smell different, what makes one a beer and the other an ale is the type of yeast used during fermentation while being brewed.
For brewers of both beer and ale, the designation makes it easier to apply for permits and comply with a single set of rules and taxes.
In addition, the new rules also allow for the federal Certificate of Label Approval to be accepted on the state level, allowing brewers to get fresh beer to market faster, and allow for out-of-county warehousing for self-distributing breweries so they can serve new markets.
Wine and Beer Delivery
Another new rule allows the beer, and wine, to come to you.
Signed by the governor in June, Senate Bill 1232 lets Texas’ beer and wine retailers, including restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops, deliver the goods to consumers’ doors.
Beer and wine retailer’s license holders will be able to apply for permits to deliver it themselves or contract through digital delivery services like Instacart or Favor, the platform H-E-B began using over a year ago.
In addition to beer-to-go and other changes, House Bill 1545 includes a provision that changes the cap on the number of liquor store permits an individual can own.
Previous State law limited the number of liquor store permits a person can own unless the store owner’s closest blood relative could obtain additional permits and then consolidate them, or if the permits were owned before 1949. In both cases, an unlimited number of permits was allowed.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States campaigned for a change to remove those “anti-competitive loopholes” that don’t exist in any other state and which hurt those who don’t have family members. The new law raises the cap from five to 250.
“When you said, ‘Texas is open for business,’ it didn’t apply to package stores,” said Dale Szyndrowski, vice president for government relations for the council. “Now if you have the bandwidth, you can open 250 stores and really get into the marketplace.”
But it’s going to take awhile for customers to see the numbers grow, he added. “This business takes awhile to get into and understand the marketplace.”
The Texas Package Stores Association (TPSA) fought against the new measure on the basis it would hurt family-owned businesses and increase irresponsible access to liquor. It later agreed to a compromise.
TPSA’s website states there are more than 2,500 liquor stores in Texas, all family-owned and operated, and 1,500 liquor companies.
Seven liquor store chains benefit from the family exception, according to TPSA. Among them is the state’s largest liquor chain, Spec’s, as well as Twin Liquors, which has multiple San Antonio locations. Don’s and Ben’s Liquor outlets and Gabriel’s Liquor stores, with locations across the city, are owned by an entity listed as Gabriel Investment Group on TABC licensing records.
“Anytime we can open it up to consumer choices who in the 21st century want to have the ability to get their spirits when they want, where and how they want, this is going to help move it in the right direction,” Szyndrowski said. “It hasn’t swung the pendulum on removing all the blue laws restrictions yet, but this is a huge move – something that needed to be done years ago.
“Hopefully, down the road, you’ll have the opportunity to shop for spirits on Sundays, just like you do beer and wine.”
The restriction on craft beer sales and liquor store permits may have been a byproduct of Texas’ blue laws, which attempt to prevent alcohol sales on Sundays.
However, consumers will wait until at least another legislative session, or longer, for changes to those longstanding rules.
In January, during the legislative session that saw the sunset bill passed, State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) introduced House Bill 1100 to repeal blue laws and allow package stores to be open seven days a week. That bill never made it out of a House subcommittee.
A TABC spokesman told the Rivard Report that the agency is fine-tuning the messaging it will issue in relation to the changes and will release more information about the new laws as the Sept. 1 deadline approaches.