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Craft beer bills now officially the law

Whatever you think of the vetoes or the special session action, this is unequivocally good news.

Happy hour started Friday afternoon for Texas brewers.

Gov. Rick Perry signed five bills representing the most comprehensive overhaul in two decades of how beer is packaged and sold across the state.

Thus, effective immediately, shipping breweries such as Houston’s Saint Arnold can sell a set amount of beer directly to customers, although they must consume it on-site.

And brewpubs like San Antonio’s Freetail can package and sell some of their products for distribution in other retail outlets. The latter change gives Texas restaurants that make their own beer the same ability to sell off-site as many out-of-state brewpubs.

“This is a great moment for craft brewers in Texas,” Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner said. “It’s the first real reform we’ve seen in beer law, for craft brewers, since the brewpub bill.” He referred to the 1993 legislation that authorized licensed restaurants to make and sell beer for sale on-site.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild hailed the signings as a “progressive step forward in making Texas the epicenter of craft beer development and growth” and predicted the law changes will mean not just more beer on store shelves but also “more jobs for Texans, increased tourism and greater tax revenue for the state.”

In Houston, the law allowing on-site consumption at shipping breweries would have the biggest immediate potential impact. Saint Arnold, for example, plans to begin offering “special and limited edition brews” for sale during its weekday and Saturday tours.

The basic tour at Saint Arnold’s won’t change – they’re not going to fool around with something that’s been such a success for them. Saint Arnold may start adding other events at which beer will be sold. I suspect there will be a lot of experimenting, and that’s just fine. The brewers and the brewpubs have been given a lot of new latitude, and it will take them awhile to figure out how best to take advantage of it for themselves.

Saint Arnold is the biggest player in the microbrewery space around here, but there are plenty of others now. One of them is Karbach, which hasn’t decided yet what it will do now that it can sell beer on premise. Karbach has been growing like gangbusters lately, so the new freedom they’ve been given comes at a great time for them.

Karbach Brewing Co., one of the nation’s fastest-growing craft breweries, has signed a distribution deal that will significantly expand its availability in stores, bars and restaurants from Beaumont to Galveston to Victoria.

In a separate deal, the Houston brewery also will begin selling beer in San Antonio next month, co-founder Ken Goodman said Wednesday.

To meet the anticipated demand, Karbach is completing a major expansion of its northwest Houston plant that will give it capacity to produce and sell up to 40,000 barrels annually, up from 15,000 barrels.

Karbach, which began sales in August 2011, produced more than 8,000 barrels in 2012, well ahead of internal forecasts. Goodman said he expects to sell 18,000 to 20,000 barrels this year.

That will include new sales in 17 counties across Southeast Texas through a distribution arrangement announced Wednesday with Del Papa Distributing Co.

Karbach had been delivering some beers on its own in a limited area, but the Del Papa deal will put year-round and special-release beers in a wider variety of stores and bars.

According to some research done by The New Yorker, based on newly released 2012 data gathered by the Brewers Association, Karbach was the second-fastest growing brewery in the country from 2011 to 2012, with sales increasing by a phenomenal 1112% over that year. You have to start at a pretty low level to grow tenfold, but still, that’s impressive. Overall, craft brewery production increased by 14% in the state, though the total volume of over 770,000 barrels is still peanuts compared to what an Anheuser Busch produces in a year. One reason why there’s been such growth is because there’s plenty of room for it. Texas is only 41st in the country in craft breweries per capita. A whole lot more of these places could open before the market even approaches saturation.

One more thing:

The brewers guild released new figures Friday showing that craft beer production in Texas was up 42 percent last year compared with 2011. It estimated the industry’s economic impact in the state was $737 million in 2012.

“Texas craft beer now accounts for an estimated 0.98 percent of all beer consumed in Texas, but it employs 59.7 percent of the people who work in breweries in the state,” it said.

The new figures don’t appear on the Texas Craft Brewers Guild website just yet, though you can still see last year’s study, which put the impact at $608 million. You can be sure that number will be even bigger next year.

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