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Scott Metzger

The microbreweries aren’t done with the Legislature

Microbreweries took a big step forward in 2013, but there’s still more to be done.

The 2013 legislative session, which featured the largest overhaul of the beer industry since 1993, was viewed by many observers as a watershed moment for craft brewers in Texas. But in testimony before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee on Thursday, Scott Metzger, who sits on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, said the state can still do more for the industry.

At a hearing on how to make Texas more attractive to venture capital investment, Metzger predicted that over next 10 years, the brewing industry could be the most dynamic growth sector of the Texas economy. That potential is limited, he said, because of remaining restrictions on brewers that make it difficult to attract investors.

“The restrictions the state of Texas places on our businesses dictate that it often makes better economic sense to deploy capital in a different state,” Metzger, a former economics professor, told lawmakers.


Asserting that New York, Washington, Colorado and even California had more brewer-friendly environments than Texas, Metzger said Thursday that the industry is encumbered locally by “restrictive franchise statutes” and “a regulatory scheme that restricts our ability to sell and market our products and, in one particularly egregious instance, to realize any of the actual value of the brands that we have created.”

In addition to approving a slate of bills in 2013 that opened up the industry in ways his group appreciated, including allowing brewpubs to distribute their beer off-site via third-party distributors, Metzger said lawmakers also passed a bill that they were less enthusiastic about that prevented brewers from receiving compensation from wholesalers for their distribution rights. He also raised objections to rules that he said essentially lock in distribution agreements “for life.”

Metzger encouraged lawmakers to think of the three-tiered system as “a living, breathing thing that needs to evolve with the changing marketplace.”

I pointed this out last July, via a post from the Jester King brewery. Here’s a quote:

While the new laws represent major progress for Texas beer, there are some realities that we are not pleased with. There still exist exorbitant licensing fees in Texas that keep beer from small, artisan brewers out of our state. We still will not be seeing beer from Cantillon or Fantome on Texas store shelves anytime soon. We feel strongly that in order for Texas to become a truly world-class beer state, it must eliminate the massive licensing fees that keep out beer from small, artisan producers. We have written extensively on this topic before, which you can read here.

We are also not pleased with the passage of SB 639, which makes it expressly illegal for breweries to sell the right to distribute their products to wholesalers, while making it expressly legal for wholesalers to sell those same rights to one another. This law is tantamount to legalized theft, and we will join future efforts to see it overturned. For our complete commentary on SB 639, please follow this link.

See here and here for the background. The situation is unquestionably better, but it’s also unquestionably not what one would call a free market. I personally don’t see the value in the existing three-tier system, but as long as the political will to dismantle it doesn’t exist, we should push to loosen it as much as possible. I presume the craft brewers will have a wish list of specific legislation they’d like to pass by the time the session starts. It won’t be any easier this time around, because the big breweries will do everything they can to protect their legally mandated piece of the pie. I won’t be terribly surprised if they have one of their toadies introduce a bill to scale back in some way the gains the craft brewers won. We’ll need to keep an eye out for that.

Craft beer bills pass out of the Senate

A good day indeed.

The Texas Senate voted Monday to give craft brewers and brewpubs new opportunities to sell their beer.

“To see that happen was amazing,” said Scott Metzger, a San Antonio brewpub owner who worked with other brewers, legislators and wholesalers in negotiating a compromise.

Brock Wagner, owner of Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing, called it a critical step toward passage of the state’s most significant beer-related legislation in 20 years.

“We still have a path to follow,” he said.

Metzger watched via his office computer at Freetail Brewing as the Senate voted 31-0 to approve two bills promoted by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. An economic impact study Metzger prepared for the guild predicts the measures will spark even stronger growth for the state’s burgeoning craft beer industry.


Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas distributors group, which supported SB 515 and 518 from the beginning, called it “a good day for the craft-brewing industry,” including manufacturers and wholesalers.

As Metzger noted, SBs 516 and 517 were not taken up because the Senate can only vote on so many bills on a single day at this point in the session. They were subsequently passed unanimously on Wednesday. SB639, the Carona bill, was also approved after some modifications were made that settled most of the objections to it. All bills now await hearings in the House, and signs look good for passage. Put some beer in the fridge in anticipation of it finally happening.

Craft beer legislation advances

Moving forward.

Legislation authorizing the most significant changes in 20 years to the way beer is bought and sold in Texas passed a key Senate committee Tuesday with broad support.

Under terms of the bills, Houston’s Saint Arnold and other Texas craft breweries could sell a limited amount of beer on site and brewpubs like San Antonio’s Freetail Brewing could package some of their product for sale in stores, bars and restaurants.

The breweries, meanwhile, would be prohibited from accepting cash payments for the rights to distribute their beer in specific geographic regions, but they would be allowed to continue to share marketing and some other costs with their distributors.

“It’s an exciting day,” said Scott Metzger, the owner of Freetail Brewing, who has been negotiating on behalf of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. “ … We have a path ahead of us.”

Final terms of the bills – four of which were developed after yearlong negotiations between brewers, lawmakers and distributor and consumer groups – were hammered out under a tight deadline set last week by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce, who introduced a competing bill and ordered the two sides to reach a compromise.

The committee approved all five amended bills unanimously Tuesday and sent them to the local calendar committee for expedited scheduling before the full Senate. Metzger said a signed agreement among stakeholders with an interest in the bills should expedite companion bills in the House.

Metzger and Brock Wagner of the Saint Arnold brewery both expressed positive thoughts on this, while spokespeople for the Beer Alliance of Texas and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, who had played the role of villain prior to this, both basically said everyone got some of what they wanted and no one got everything. In its summary of the legislation, Open The Taps says that “at least a few craft brewers are not pleased with the limitation on selling their brand territorial distribution rights”, which is an aspect of the Carona bill that had been criticized by everyone except the Wholesale Beer Distributors. My feelings on this are in line with Open the Taps, which writes in its analysis of the bills:

This is by no means a perfect package of regulatory changes, but again it is a good step. Things happen incrementally in legislative bodies, and we will be back next session if necessary to continue the fight to OPEN THE TAPS in Texas.

We still have a few points on our wish list to accomplish, and we are looking for ways to implement those points, but this may be the most we can get at this time and we will consider it more progress than has been made since 1993 when brew pubs were first allowed in Texas, post-prohibition.

See also Scott Metzger’s analysis of the bills and the process that led to the package that emerged from committee. This is tangible progress and a big deal in its own right, but hardly the end of the line. Now let’s get this across the finish line, and we can see where to go next from there. Good job, y’all.

Craft beer bills get their hearing

From the Trib:

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Tuesday acted as legislative referee over bills that would allow craft breweries to sell on their premises and self-distribute in Texas, but critics said the legislation would hurt the state’s system of alcohol production and distribution.

“It’s two different visions of where the beer industry in Texas needs to go,” said Rick Donley, president of the Texas Beer Alliance.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, filed a package of bills in February that would make significant reforms to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage code and the state’s three-tiered system that regulates the production, distribution and retail sales of beer separately, dating to the end of Prohibition.

Eltife said the legislation also puts Texas brewers “on a level playing field with other states” in their treatment under the law. The change is strongly supported by the Texas Beer Alliance, which lobbies for major-brand beer distributors and some craft brews. Donley said the legislation supports the growth of craft breweries and addresses lawsuits surrounding the Commerce Clause.


The Texas Beer Alliance did not always champion these changes, but craft breweries have recently become the industry’s gold mine. “It is the only segment in the industry to show growth in the last four years,” Donley said.

But Eltife’s bills are being challenged by Senate Bill 639, filed by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, and supported by the Wholesale Beer Distributors, which presents a host of complex changes to the code, centered on severability, reach-back pricing and distribution — problems that Carona’s staff argues go unaddressed in Eltife’s bills.

“For whatever reason, the working groups didn’t anticipate the issues that you find in 639,” said Steven Polunsky, Carona’s committee director. “If passing craft beer was easy, it would’ve been passed three sessions ago.”

With all due respect, the reason why this has been so difficult and so time-consuming is because there are entrenched interests at work. Big breweries and the big distributors have fought for the status quo because it’s a great deal for them, and they don’t want the competition. Thanks in part to a scaling back of their ask, a persistent grassroots campaign, and a welcome alignment with the Texas Beer Alliance, Sen. Eltife’s bills have a chance. Sen. Carona’s alternate bill is opposed by the craft brewers, the TBA, and as this AP story notes, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Manufacturers and Anheuser-Busch InBev as well. The Chron has more on what a pasting Sen. Carona’s bill took.

“That is very simply a government-sponsored price-fixing cartel,” Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said in testimony before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee in Austin.

He cited a provision that would force manufacturers to charge one price to distributors statewide, regardless of varying market circumstances, but allow the distributors to sell to retailers at any price they wished. Supporters say this would clarify existing law and prevent dishonest dealing by brewers, but it was widely derided Tuesday

“From the consumers’ point of view, that’s the worst of all possible worlds, restricted output and higher prices at every level,” said Loyola, who has written for conservative publications and served as a state policy adviser to former Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

“In fact, the law, in our view, should be amended in exactly the opposite direction.”

In a crowded hearing room lined with craft brewers and other industry representatives, the lone supporter testifying for the measure, Senate Bill 639, was Randy Yarbrough of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, politely grilled Yarbrough after noting that the wholesalers group had not raised these issues during a yearlong series of meetings that brought industry and legislative leaders together to hammer out legislation.

Another critic, Anheuser-Busch’s Dallas-based region vice president of sales Keith Diggs, pointed out that in other states where such pricing mandates have been enacted, consumer prices increased markedly. He said SB 639 ignores that “what goes on in East Texas is not the same as what goes on in Brownsville, Texas.”

Ouch. The thing is, the Wholesale Beer Distributors don’t need a bill to pass to win – they just need to play defense. Filing Carona’s SB 639 was an extra layer of defense, and perhaps a sign that this time they’re worried. But it’s still easier to kill bills than to pass them, and just because there’s been progress doesn’t mean there will be success. Keep letting your Rep and your Senator know that you support a genuinely free market for beer in Texas. Open the Taps presented written testimony for the Eltife bills and has a recap of the hearing, and the Rivard Report has more.

I knew all this beer harmony couldn’t last forever

We have some legislative beer controversy on our hands.

Sen. John Carona

Texas brewers would lose a potential source of capital and some flexibility in negotiating sales under a bill before the state Senate.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild immediately opposed the legislation, as did one of the state’s two major groups representing wholesale distributors – which called it “asinine” and “anti-competitive.”

The bill, authored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, would prohibit brewery owners from selling distribution rights for their beer and it would restrict them from selling beer at different prices in different geographic areas.

Scott Metzger, owner of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, has been actively involved in talks regarding a separate package of bills designed to help the state’s growing number of independently owned craft breweries and brewpubs.

He said the major provisions of the Carona bill were not raised during pre-session negotiations among lawmakers and industry stakeholders and he said the Craft Brewers Guild opposes all of them, whether in this bill or if they should be added later to other legislation.


Under the state’s three-tier distribution system, brewers cannot sell directly to retailers or consumers but must, with a limited exception for smaller breweries, enter exclusive contracts with wholesalers to sell the beer to retailers in designated territories.

Distributors can pay breweries for those rights, although payments are not required and can take different forms.

Donley said the practice is becoming more common as the craft segment grows. These generally smaller brewers reach a point where they need an infusion to expand, he said, and selling distribution rights is a potentially large source of capital.

Denying breweries this option goes against the charge of the pre-session working groups to stimulate economic development in the craft industry, he said.

Carona’s bill would not stop distributors from selling the rights to individual brands to other distributors.

The bill in question is SB639. Donley is Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents Silver Eagle Distributing and other major wholesalers, who opposes it; Keith Strama of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, supports it. There’s no quote from Sen. Carona’s office, but he did send a statement to author Ronnie Crocker after publication. Among other things, we learn that Carona is no longer one of the authors of the craft beer bills that would finally loosen some of the archaic restrictions on microbreweries and brewpubs; apparently, he decided to go a different route. Scott Metzger of Freetail has an interesting perspective on this at his blog:

It has not gone without notice that the proponents of this bill don’t have an interest in restricting themselves from raising prices in different markets, or from selling brands rights, but that they are only concerned about what they have to pay. In essence, this bill is one step short of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code having Mandated Profits for the middle tier. This is self-serving protectionism at its most blatant.


This Legislation amounts to nothing more than a blatant money-grab by the Wholesale Beer Distributors. It distorts the free market by protecting wholesalers from paying the cost of doing business. Ironically, no one has ever forced any distributor to pay for the distribution rights of a brewer. These are voluntary private-party transactions that occur because craft beer distribution rights are actually valuable and distributors are eager to out-bid their rivals for those rights. If you don’t want to pay, then don’t.

Luckily, this proposal is likely to go nowhere at the Capitol. My contacts up there have told me the Legislature is highly unlikely to move on Legislation that most of the industry hates, benefits only certain players, and goes against free-market principles.

Lastly, I’m thankful to Chairman Carona for filing this legislation. The WBDT was trying to amend Senator Eltife’s craft beer bills with this anti-competetive, self-serving language, and were promptly told no. But I suppose everyone deserves a chance, and I’m looking forward to hearing the WBDT try to explain any shred of public interest that might exist for this money grab.

See also this post for related matters, and this post for a fuller response to Sen. Carona’s statement. Metzger makes it clear in that latter post that he is speaking on behalf of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. If they are OK with Sen. Carona filing this bill then I don’t see any reason for me to be unhappy about it at this time.

What does it mean to be a “craft” beer?

The Chron has a Q&A with beer aficionado Jenn Litz that raises an interesting question.

Q: How are the major breweries responding to the craft beer trend?

A: Mostly through the acquisition route. They know the milliennials are drinking craft, and the margins are good with craft beer. The majority of craft beer drinkers either don’t know or don’t care if the label is owned by MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch. A lot of these craft breweries don’t have succession plans, and they’d be open to selling to a big company.

As we know, one strategy the major breweries have adopted is to create brands that imitate craft-brewed beers. I’ll be honest, I’d have a hard time with it if my favorite craft beer were to be acquired by one of the mega-brewers. For one thing, I would not trust the big boys to maintain the quality of any craft brew they’d acquire. I mean, in any other industry, how often does a small startup retain its defining qualities when it gets bought out by a bigger competitor? Generally speaking, the idea is to “integrate” the newcomer into the brand of the buyer, which is to say make it more like what the big company does. I don’t see how that could be a good thing. Second, while I’m not a fanatic about “buy local”, all things being equal I’d rather spend my money on a company that’s based here and that invests here. Finally, to the extent that brand identity matters, I’d rather identify and be identified with something small and independent than something big and corporate. Obviously, your mileage may vary. I fully expect that there will be some consolidation in the beer industry – the big brewers can see what the trends are, and they like making money – but I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.

On a side note, Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing is busy posting again. See his thoughts on the start of the session and of the Alcohol Working Groups hosted by Sens. John Carona and Leticia Van de Putte that have been going on for several months. He’s sounding optimistic about the way things are going for microbewers, which is good to hear. Check it out.

More on the microbrewers’ legislative strategy

The Statesman returns to our favorite subject.

The small brewers, generally a young and passionate group, always have been better at creating hoppy and original brews than navigating the Legislature and the network of big-money lobbyists who are experts at quietly influencing politicians. The lack of political savvy among craft brewers has hampered their efforts to make Texas more friendly to craft beers, as Oregon, California and Colorado are.

“Part of our frustration in the past is we have seemingly been fighting against invisible enemies,” [Freetail Brewing CEO Scott] Metzger said. “We never really felt like we got our fair shot.”

They will try again during the next legislative session, which begins in January. But this time, they have a new tactic: befriend the two powerful wholesale beer distributor lobby groups that opposed their measures in the past: the Beer Alliance of Texas and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas.

“We’re trying to build consensus with the stakeholders who have been in opposition in the past,” said Metzger, founder and CEO of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio and an economics professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

The lobby groups have said recently that they appreciate craft brewers and support them. Still, they have been reluctant to back the small brewers for fear that fracturing the three-tier system could threaten their ability to make money.

Craft brewers selling at breweries might take a small piece of distributors’ business, but if larger beer makers somehow exploit exemptions to the three-tier system to self-distribute, then distributors could find themselves losing money.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance, said his organization is in the middle of “delicate negotiations” with the craft brewers and that his group might be on board next time. “We’re not closing the door,” he said. Still, he has concerns. He said he fears federal court challenges if the three-tier law is changed too much. He wasn’t specific, but he said a federal case could open floodgate for legal issues that could hurt his clients.

Keith Strama, a general counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, said his organization sees “craft brewers as a strong ally to promote the industry in the state” and gladly will work with them. But, he said, “we’re reluctant to support proposals that further deregulate the system.”

Yes, God forbid we should ever have a free market for beer in Texas. It’s a good thing for the distributors that they have clout in Austin, because if this were ever put to a vote of the people, they’d get creamed. See here for more.

What the microbreweries want from the next legislative session

Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing has an update on what he and his craft-brewing colleagues have been working on.

Brock Wagner (of Saint Arnold of course) and I have been Co-Chairing the Texas Craft Brewers Guild Legislative Committee and have come a long way. There is still a ton of work to do, and nothing is certain, but I feel better about our chances than ever before. For the first time this issue is being tackled from the perspective of economic development and helping Texas-born businesses flourish. From that angle, there is really no denying that changes must be made to grant Texas craft brewers greater access to market.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has released this position paper laying out our legislative agenda. Specifically, we have four goals (all equal in importance):

  • Gain the ability for packaging breweries to sell their products to consumers on the premise of their breweries
  • Gain the ability for brewpubs to sell to the wholesale tier
  • Protect small brewer’s existing rights to self-distribute
  • Achieve these goals while protecting the integrity and viability of the 3-tier system

As I wrote here last November, protecting a viable, independent 3-tier system is vital for the health of the craft brewing industry. Without independent wholesalers, craft beer would never see the light of the shelves or taps we’d be stuck in a world without the wide variety of choices we enjoy today.

See here for more about their economic impact study. I’m less sanguine about the three-tier system than they are, but if they’ve found a way to overcome the resistance to any change while living within that system and not making it any harder for further newcomers to the industry, then who am I to complain? I wish them all the best of luck next year.

Beer is a job creator

Microbreweries are, anyway.

Craft brewing in Texas could add 52,000 jobs and mushroom into a $5.6 billion industry by 2020 if state lawmakers next year ease restrictions on breweries and restaurants that make beer on-site, a study prepared by the brewers claims.

That compares with the estimated $608 million economic impact that smaller, independently owned craft breweries made in 2011, according to the analysis made public Monday by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.

“If you get a really vibrant industry going, with all the multiplier effects, to me it’s not unrealistic,” Brock Wagner, who founded Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in 1994, said of the projected growth.

Wagner and other Brewers Guild members have already begun meeting with legislators and wholesaler groups ahead of the 2013 legislative session.

They are pushing for changes to the state alcohol code that would allow shipping breweries like Saint Arnold – which sell their product to wholesalers, who distribute it in turn to stores, bars and restaurants – to offer a limited amount of beer directly to consumers and allow brewpubs to package some of their beer for off-site retail sales they way they do in states with strong brewing industries.

Wagner said the changes would encourage more Texans to open breweries and help startups and established breweries alike by providing additional revenue that can be used to expand marketing efforts and reach new beer drinkers.

“Changing the laws will make many of these businesses much more viable,” he added. “If the law changes, we will change our staffing overnight – literally, add another 50 percent.”

We are well familiar with the microbrewers’ efforts to get the Lege to update its archaic and obsolete laws regarding beer distribution. I of course hope that the fourth time is the charm. I don’t recall them making an explicit economic argument for their case in years past; certainly, they appealed to basic free market principles, which the beer distribution duopoly most certainly is not, but I don’t recall jobs being part of the pitch. Of course, they didn’t have these numbers before now. Here’s more on that.

The Texas craft beer industry is having measurable positive economic impact on local and regional economies throughout the state to the tune of $608 million, according to the Economic Impact of the Texas Craft Brewing Industry study released today by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. Texas craft brewers are also creating jobs, accounting for 51.2 percent of all the state’s brewery jobs, a remarkable figure given only 0.7% of the beer consumed in the state comes from Texas craft brewers.

The study, authored by University of Texas-San Antonio Economics Professor Scott Metzger, founder and CEO of San Antonio-based Freetail Brewing Co., also models how the economic impact of the Texas craft beer industry could reach $5.6 billion annually in just eight years.

“$5.6 billion sounds astounding, but given what’s happening across the country with craft beer, it’s not. It’s actually conservative,” Metzger says, calling the 2011 figure “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Given consumer demand and planned increases in capacity, a tremendous opportunity exists for ongoing and future growth — provided legislation may be passed allowing Texas’ craft brewers the same access to market enjoyed by brewers in other states and by the Texas wine industry,” Metzger says.


“In other states, brewers can sell their packaged goods directly to consumers through tasting rooms. In other states, brewpubs can sell their beer off premises, at festivals, for instance, and as packaged goods in retail stores, not just at their brewpub location,” explains Metzger.


“These sales opportunities other brewers benefit and grow from are lost for Texas craft brewers — and they add up.”

Download the entire report, official press release and supplemental materials here.

I have not had the chance to pore through these reports in detail yet. I suspect there may be a bit of puffery in there, as is often the case with studies like these, but the thing about a small population is that it doesn’t take much for it to have rapid and sizable growth. Further, the vast majority of microbreweries are startups, and as the CBPP points out, that’s where the job creation action is.

There is an emerging consensus among economists that young small firms — not small firms in general — are particularly important “job creators.” A 2010 study finds no systematic relationship between firm size and job growth, after controlling for firms’ age.[22] It thus is important to distinguish between startup businesses, which the study finds “contribute substantially to both gross and net job creation” (as well as to gross job destruction when they fail, as many startups do), and other small businesses, which on average generate no more net job growth than do larger businesses.[23]

Similarly, as CRS notes, recent research “suggests that small businesses contribute only slightly more jobs than other firms relative to their employment share. Moreover, this differential is not due to hiring by existing small firms, but rather to startups, which tend to be small.”[24]

So there you have it. Do your part for job creation in Texas and pick up a sixpack or two of your favorite microbrew. It’s the right thing to do.

Freetail expansion on hold


Having previously announced expansion into the Houston market, Freetail Brewing Co. will announce the indefinite suspension of plans for a second location — citing concerns over access to capital.

“As I moved forward with the Freetail Houston project, I began to run into an increasing level of resistance in capital markets. A brewpub is a good project for downtown Houston, but the deal is simply not there for me at this time,” explained Freetail Founder & CEO, Scott Metzger. “When we announced the project on May 17, we also stated there were financial considerations to be addressed. Those considerations are ultimately what put this project on hold indefinitely, and no other reason. To move forward with the project at this time would be irresponsible and an injustice to my company and the City of Houston.

“For now my focus will be to continue growing our successful original location, which has internal expansion needs of its own, and moving forward in the battle for fair reform of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, as it relates to the activities of our state’s brewpubs and breweries,” added Metzger.

Beer, TX adds some details.

Houston officials had worked closely with Metzger and the owner of the downtown property and felt Freetail was “a fantastic fit for us,” said Angie Bertinot, spokeswoman for the Houston Downtown Management District.

“We’re incredibly disappointed, without a doubt,” she said. “This is something the district really went after.”

She said the district had asked Metzger to consider extending his self-imposed deadline of last Friday. Officials had hoped he would keep trying to raise money until closer to the mid-August date set in the letter of intent signed back in May. “But,” Bertinot added, “we can’t go raise money for him, obviously.”


The brewer said he still believes Houston is a viable location, but he realized he did not have enough contacts among potential investors. He also said continuing economic uncertainties may have investors leery.

“If things change, then we want to revisit Houston,” he said.

“Economic uncertainties”? I blame Eric Cantor. Freetail had announced their intent to open a Houston location in May. I hope they are able to get the funding they need to try again soon.

Freetail to come to Houston


After months of professional evaluation and fan speculation, Freetail Brewing Co. is happy to announce it has chosen downtown Houston as the site of its second location.

On November 2, 2010, Freetail Founder & CEO Scott Metzger announced the company’s search for a second location. After extensive research and analysis, bolstered by a robust social media campaign by thirty Houstonians, Metzger ultimately decided on approximately 20,000 square feet in a historic building in downtown Houston. Out of respect to the developer, the exact location cannot be named at this time.

“When I started this company I would never have envisioned a Houston location,” said Metzger. “But through the diligent efforts of The Downtown District and the city’s vocal craft beer fans, I’ve begun to fall in love with the city and I am looking forward to many beers there.”

The new location, described as a “flagship” design, spans three floors and includes a company store for customers to buy packaged product, growlers and merchandise in addition to ample restaurant and bar space. Unlike Freetail’s original location, which is primarily one big room with a patio overlooking the Texas hill country, Freetail Houston will feature traditional restaurant seating, private dining space, and a “game room” with pool tables, shuffleboard, darts and numerous televisions.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker hailed the announcement as part of her effort to grow downtown’s appeal. “The development of downtown Houston is important to my administration,” said Parker. “We recognize that building a critical mass of retail is needed for existing and future downtown residents, as well as building an attractive visitor and tourist market. Freetail Brewing Co. will be a welcome addition to the existing mix of eclectic and one-of-a-kind restaurants and watering holes already there.”

The Mayor’s sentiments were echoed by Bob Eury, Executive Director of the Downtown District. “As part of our retail efforts, we specifically targeted Freetail Brewing Co. as a great fit for downtown,” said Eury. “They will create positive synergy with other downtown retailers and when you add a brewpub to our list of newcomers, we are really starting to move the needle in regards to making downtown a thriving, livable community.”

It wasn’t without hesitation that Freetail decided to open a second location 200-miles from their homebase, but Metzger said Houston’s beer culture played a huge role. “A lot of folks talk about the trail of failed brewpubs that litters Houston’s past, but I don’t think a brewpub is something that can’t thrive here. I look at the amazing following that St. Arnold has built over its incredible lifespan and see what’s possible.” The Freetail CEO also added that a grass roots social media campaign played a huge part in the decision. “Organizations like Girls Pint Out, the Foam Rangers, the Bay Area Mashtronauts and Houston beer enthusiasts share a lot of the credit for this decision. They took to Twitter and Facebook and made an effort to show how much they wanted Freetail, and I heard that message loud and clear.”

St. Arnold’s Brock Wagner shared Metzger’s sentiments that Houston is ready for a brewpub. “Houston has a thriving beer scene but oddly no brewpubs. I have told many people that if I could, I would love to open a brewpub here. People will quickly embrace a brewpub downtown and one already known to brew great beers. The success of such a place will dispel the view that there is a brewpub curse in Houston,” said Wagner.

Metzger, who was part of the failed legislative effort to allow brewpubs to sell their products to distributors, added that the facility will be designed with the size and flexibility to eventually accommodate sales to wholesalers. “HB 660 may not have passed the legislature in 2011, but we will be back and reason shall eventually prevail.”

Metzger also noted that while an executed Letter of Intent was in place, some fundraising work remains to be completed before Freetail Houston is a done deal. “We have a significant portion of the financing completed, but need to wrap up the rest within 90 days for this project to move forward. I’m confident that will not be an issue.”

The $4.2 million facility is projected to open in Spring 2012 and create 100 new jobs.

I’m delighted to hear this news and look forward to patronizing the new place. Now no matter what happens with HB602 it’s been a good year for beer in Houston, and who knows, maybe it’ll give a little momentum for the next legislative session when the brewpubs can try again. Beer, TX has more.

A win for the microbrewers

Woo hoo!

Craft beer brewers came to the Capitol this session with a number of bills giving them greater latitude in getting their beers to customers. [Thursday], the House gave an early OK to one of those bills, allowing breweries to charge admission for tours, and include up to two six-packs of beers to give to tourists at the end.

“Tours of our brewery are the single most important marketing item,” Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold brewery in Houston, told the House committee that took up the bill last month. Other states have that ability, he said, and those breweries and their beers are out-competing Texas beers.

This is HB602 by Rep. Jessica Farrar we’re talking about. It passed the House unanimously and now needs to pass the Senate. Beer, TX has some information on that:

[Rep. Farrar’s] bill now awaits committee assignment in the Senate, where it is being sponsored by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.


Brock Wagner, the Saint Arnold Brewing Co. founder who has pushed for the change as a way to help small brewers market their products more effectively, said his focus now turns to the upper chamber. While pleased with Thursday’s vote, he was not ready to pop the top on a celebratory ale.

“I continue my state of cautious optimism,” he said. “We’re not there yet. It’s certainly a big step in the right direction.”

Sen. Davis’ bill is SB1863; it remains in the Business and Commerce Committee as of today. I should note that Saint Arnold’s already charges for a tour, and in return you get the lovely glass pictured on that page. That’s nice, but perhaps not so useful after a certain number of return trips. If this gets signed by the Governor, I presume Saint Arnold will institute a tiered pricing structure for its tours, thus allowing those who wish to take home a six pack or two to do so. After three sessions of trying to make something like this happen, this is substantial progress.

I wish I could report equally good news for the brewpub bill HB660, but it remains in committee and I daresay it is unlikely to see the light of day this session. Tellingly, the only update on the Brewed And Never Battered blog talks about a couple of other bills that had recent committee hearings, HB2436 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and companion bill SB1575 by Sen. Kirk Watson, which would allow for some direct sales by microbrewers, but neither has received a committee vote yet. Frankly, no matter what happens with any of these bills, I think Scott Metzger did a great job getting the word out and building support for letting brewpubs expand their markets. If HB602 can pass, something like HB660 will eventually pass, too. It may take a few more sessions, but it will happen, and we’ll all be the better off for it.

From the “Capitalism is scary!” files

If you’ve been following the brewpubs’ efforts to get a bill passed that would allow them to sell their wares elsewhere in Texas then this Statesman story doesn’t bring much new to you. What it does do is cleanly capture the absurdity of the arguments against giving brewpubs and microbreweries greater access to the market in Texas.

The [Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas] is very protective of the state’s post-Prohibition alcoholic beverage laws, which divide the industry among breweries, distributors and retailers and bar anyone from owning businesses in more than one category.

That means anyone wanting to sell outside of his own premises to consumers has to go through the distributors.

There are minor exceptions, including the legalization of brewpubs in Texas in 1993. Texas regulators consider brewpubs to be retailers, even though they also brew beer.

It’s a tiny industry. In 2009, Texas brewpubs produced 12,755 barrels of beer and grossed $31.9 million in sales, according to a report commissioned by Texas Beer Freedom.

But Mike McKinney, a lobbyist with the Wholesale Beer Distributors, says too many exceptions might invite industry giants to lobby the Legislature to change the system.

“We don’t want Anheuser-Busch to own a chain of grocery stores or nightclubs,” McKinney said.


Both sides cite the Texas wine market, which allows wineries to sell both to consumers at the vineyards and to wholesalers for distribution in stores, in their arguments about HB 660.

McKinney says the wine market is “chaotic.”

Scott Metzger, an economist who also owns Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, says the number of Texas wineries jumped from 46 to 181 after the Legislature loosened the regulatory restraints.


The key to passing HB 660 is the House Committee for Licensing and Administrative Procedures, where the bill was pending while both sides lobby behind the scenes.

The chairman, state Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville , echoes McKinney’s concerns that the bill could “open the door” to unintended consequences.

You mean like something resembling a free market? Oh noes! Whatever will we do? Very simply, the distributors have a nice little setup for themselves that guarantees them eternal profits, and they don’t want that to change in any way. It’s all about them trying to maintain a status quo that serves their interests a lot better than anyone else’s. Brewed and Never Battered has more.

Compromise on microbrew bills

As Brewed and Never Battered noted, HB660 and HB602 were scheduled for a public hearing in committee today. I’m delighted to say that it looks like there was progress achieved on them.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, laid out HB660 before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee today. The measure, in its original form, would’ve allowed brewpubs — restaurants that brew their own beer — to distribute directly to other bars, restaurants and stores. But after a compromise with the Beer Alliance of Texas, the bill would only allow brewpups to sell their bottled wares via a beer distributor.

Villarreal told the committee that brewpubs are already manufacturing beer, and that Texas’ regulatory system is stunting their growth. Brewpubs in other states are allowed to sell to distributors, meaning Texas is losing out on what could be a growing business, Villarreal said.

“If it is putting our playing field at a built-in disadvantage to our brewpubs, versus out-of-state brewpubs, then it needs to change,” said Villarreal.

But opponents of the bill, including the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, say allowing brewpubs to sell to distributors would break down the three-tiered system that regulates the production, distribution and retail sales of beer separately — and which has been around since Prohibition. The system is meant to make it easier to regulate and tax beer sales and keep any one company from gaining a monopoly.

They suggest a round-about alternative: HB602, which would allow breweries to charge admission for tours and include up to two six-packs of beers to give to tourists at the end of the tour. Keith Strama, who represents the Beer Distributors, told the committee if HB602 passes, brewpubs could change their licenses to become manufactures of beer, so that they could sell to distributors, sell during tours, and open a restaurant on the premises.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, told the committee that he is a staunch supporter of the three-tier system, but that after working with Villarreal and the brewpub owners, a compromise was reached. Originally, the bill would have allowed brewpubs to sell a limited amount of their product directly to stores and other restaurants and bars, bypassing the distributors. The amended bill makes the distributors the middle man.

Scott Metzger, a brewpub owner and executive director of Texas Beer Freedom, said he’s pleased with the compromise. Being able to sell his beer to a distributor will help him grow his business, Metzger told the committee, but would also help grow the state’s economy and its tax revenue. Metzger, who is also an economics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the committee the bill has the potential to create $680 million a year in economic activity, 6800 new jobs at brewpubs and $57 million in new tax revenue per year.

Personally, I’d prefer to see the three-tier system thrown onto the ash heap of history, but if Scott Metzger is happy with this compromise, then so am I. If what they say about HB602 is true and it gets passed, it’ll be a huge step forward. I’m genuinely optimistic about their chances now. Kudos to Metzger, Rep. Villarreal, Rep. Jessica Farrar (the author of HB602), and everyone else involved in brokering this deal. Now let’s get this bill passed so we can all enjoy the benefits of it.

Elsewhere in alcohol-related news, two other bills moved along, though neither are bills I’d been following.

The first will require liquor stores to begin reporting the final sales destination of booze they sell — and could boost state revenues as much as $25.8 million — was approved this morning by the Texas Senate.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, the author, said that under current law, the stores do not have to report the final destination of liquor sales like they do for beer, wine and malt liquor.

“This changes the reports filed with the Comptroller, and is expected to increase tax revenue to the state,” Eltife said, noting that the improved tracking of sales is expected to improve auditing and tax collection.

The second bill, by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, will increase the limit for Texas winery off-premise tasting room sales from 35,000 gallons to 50,000 gallons. More wine sold will mean more revenues for the state, officials said.

Estes said that the increase is expected to allow the wine industry to continue growing at its current rate. Between 2007 and 2009, the economic impact of the Texas wine industry grew from $1.35 billion to $1.7 billion annually.

The bills in question are SB576 and SB411. With the news about HB602, I’d say it’s been a good day for Texas beer and wine lovers.

The last bill of alcohol-related interest is SB595, which is a bill to allow Sunday liquor sales, and on which there has been no further action. There’s still time in the session for it, but as Yogi Berra once said, it gets late early out there. I’m not nearly as optimistic about this bill’s chances.

Brewery bills get referred to committee

It’s a first step.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, has introduced House Bill 602, which would allow breweries to distribute up to 48 12-ounce beers at the conclusion of tours of the respective facilities. Brewers would cover the cost of the beer by charging varying tour admission fees. The net effect would be that tourists could take some of the product home with them, just as visitors to Texas wineries can do under existing law.

HB 602 is very similar to a bill Farrar carried during the 2009 session that made it out of committee but was buried in Calendars. Traditionally, the Texas beer wholesalers have opposed anything seen as challenging the three-tier system that gives distributors exclusive rights to sell beer to retail outlets.

This is the third time a version of the bill has been introduced. But since the defeat of the 2009 measure, Texas has seen a significant spike in the number of small breweries that have either opened, have licenses to open or are in more preliminary stages.


Also sent to the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee is House Bill 660, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. It would allow brewpubs – that is, restaurants that make and sell beer on premises only – to increase the amount of beer they produce and to sell some of that beer off-site through distributors.

It’s a journey of a thousand miles, and there’s a million ways to go off the trail and into the weeds, but you have to start somewhere. As always, if you support these bills, now would be a good time to let your Rep and your Senator know that. The AusChron has more.

The Trib on the brewpubs’ efforts

I’ve written before about the efforts by brewpubs to pass a bill that would allow them to distribute their product outside their own doors. That effort is being led by Scott Metzger of San Antonio’s Freetail Brewing Company, who has been promoting it via blog, Facebook, a new nonprofit called Texas Beer Freedom and pretty much anything else he can think of. The Trib wrote a story about this and about those who are opposed to it.

Under state law, brewpubs can make and sell their beers only on site; they are not allowed to distribute their products themselves or through a separate wholesaler. Only breweries that do not sell their own products on site may distribute their beer through wholesalers. House Bill 660, filed by Representative Mike Villarreal, Democrat of San Antonio, would give them the green light to increase production, sell to beer distributors and sell directly to stores and restaurants if they produce 10,000 barrels of beer a year — the equivalent of 20,000 kegs — or less.

But major beer distributors do not want to open those spigots. Their lobbyists argue that allowing brewpubs to sell their own wares would destroy the regulatory system in Texas that has operated, effectively and profitably, since the end of Prohibition. Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which lobbies for companies that distribute major-brand beer and some craft brews, said the three-tiered system — which regulates the production, distribution and retail sales of beer separately — made the beer business easier to regulate and tax, and keeps any one business from creating a monopoly.

Because brewpubs are not currently regulated in the same way as distributors, Donley said he worries that their products could be shipped to dry counties or to minors. “This regulatory system has worked well since Prohibition,” Donley said. “Why anybody wants to disrupt it is a question I can never quite get an answer to.”

It has worked well for the major beer producers. The top five brands in Texas, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, are Bud Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, Coors Light and Natural Light.

The brewpub supporters point that the legislation would make brewpubs that produce up to 10,000 barrels a year and sell directly to restaurants and stores subject to the same requirements as wholesalers and distributors

“At the end of the day, it’s just about they don’t want increased competition and how that affects their personal wealth,” Metzger said.

I have no idea why Rick Donley thinks HB660 would lead to anarchy in the distribution process. The current regulatory scheme has indeed been a boon for the beer distributors and their large clients, but speaking as a consumer who might like to buy a six-pack of Freetail’s finest at my neighborhood supermarket some day, it has most certainly not been good for everyone. We don’t have a free market for beer in Texas, and the distributors are perfectly happy with that. Why our supposedly free-market-loving Legislature is also happy with this, I couldn’t tell you.

Legislative beer news

There’s a new player on the beer legislation scene this session.

The owner of one of San Antonio’s largest brewpubs, Freetail Brewing Co., is spearheading an effort to change state law to allow it and other brewpubs to distribute their beer anywhere in Texas.

If successful, beer aficionados no longer would need to travel to San Antonio to sip on Blue Star beverages, or to Austin for Uncle Billy’s or Dallas for Gordon Biersch. The brewpubs would be able to self-distribute up to 10,000 barrels of their brew per year or sell it to licensed distributors.

And under the proposed legislation, brewpubs could increase their total production from the existing limit of 5,000 barrels per year to 75,000 barrels.

Freetail owner Scott Metzger helped draft House Bill 660, which would change the state’s beer distribution laws. State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, filed the bill last week.

The San Antonio Current, the Chron’s Beer, TX blog, and the Austin Chronicle have all written about HB 660. Far as I know, this is the first time that brewpubs have gotten involved in this.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a fan of Saint Arnold beer and of microbreweries in general, and I’ve been a supporter of legislation to give them more freedom to sell their product. Past legislative efforts to allow microbreweries to sell their wares at their base of operations, which is something that Texas wineries have been able to do for some years now, have fallen short. The microbreweries are trying again, but theirs is a separate effort, as noted in that Beer, TX post:

Our own Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, has indeed introduced a bill that would let brewers distribute a limited amount of beer directly to consumers. HB 602 would allow Texas breweries to charge for tours and then give tour participants up to 48 12-ounce beers at the conclusion.

By charging varying amounts, depending on how much beer a tourist wanted to receive, consumers could get the beer they want while maintaining the status quo for the state’s powerful distributors. According to the wording of Farrar’s bill:

This section does not authorize the holder of a brewer’s permit to sell ale to an ultimate consumer.

So instead of allowing people to buy a case of beer after touring the brewery, you can offer differently-priced tours that may or may not include a free case or two of the product to take home with you afterward. If you’re thinking that’s a subtle change from the previous bills, you’re correct. If you’re wondering why such a subtle change would make this bill more likely to pass, all I can say is welcome to the world of sausage-making.

Anyway. Freetail owner Scott Metzger has started a blog to document his journey through this process, and he describes the differences between HBs 660 and 602 in this post, summing up as follows:

Obviously, I support HB 660. I also believe that the activities that would be permitted by HB 602 should be legal. If a brewery wants to give you a couple of cases of beer, I believe they should be allowed to. It should be noted, however, that HB 602 has a very narrow focus that affects only a handful of breweries: A-B in Houston, MillerCoors in Ft. Worth, Spoetzel in Shiner, St. Arnold in Houston, Real Ale in Blanco, Rahr in Ft. Worth, and Independence in Austin (in other words, only the breweries that package beer in 12-ounce bottles).

I support this bill and the efforts of the breweries who would be helped by its passage. I would however, point to HB 660 as a more comprehensive piece of reform legislation that has a greater reach. And with the exception of A-B, MillerCoors and Shiner who all exceed HB 660′s size restriction, the Brewpub bill allows the activities that HB 602 seeks to allow, should a brewery decide to change to a brewpub license. A brewpub is legally allowed to sell you packaged product for off-premise consumption, so long as they have packaged product to sell (most don’t).

You will never find me campaigning against HB 602, as I think it’s a bill that should pass. However, I believe our state is in need of greater reform that benefits our craft beer industry.

I was curious about what the microbrewery perspective was on HB 660, so I placed a call to Saint Arnold’s and had a chat with Brock Wagner. He told me they’re focused on their own efforts and that he wishes Metzger and his supporters the best of luck. As do I, to all of them. There’s a Facebook page for HB 660 to like if you’re into that sort of thing. You know I’ll be keeping an eye on this.