Update May 25 at 10:04 a.m.: HB 3287 passed the Texas Senate this week and is expected to go to the governor's desk after the Senate and the House collaborate on one draft. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild plans to fight it by circulating a petition. The Beer Alliance of Texas, a trade association representing beer distributors, praised the bill's passage saying it "ensures that exemptions intended for small craft brewers do not transfer to global or larger brewing manufacturers."
Brewery taprooms have become a lucrative way for brewers to sell more beer, but a bill passed by the Texas House over the weekend could force them to pay to pour.
H.B. 3287 amends legislation passed in 2013 to say breweries that produce more than 225,000 barrels annually must contract with a distributor to be able to sell beer directly to the public via an onsite taproom. The bill, which many Texas craft brewers called "damaging" to their industry, passed by an overwhelming 110-26 margin in the House vote on Saturday.
The bill's companion, S.B. 2083, is expected to be heard by the Senate this week.
The bill will affect fairly large breweries in Texas. In its original text, H.B. 3287 lowered the production capacity applicable to this bill to 175,000 barrels a year, but an amendment passed Saturday raised it up to 225,000 barrels. For context, Deep Ellum Brewing Co., one of the largest operations in Dallas-Fort Worth, is on track to produce 45,000 barrels in 2017.
Some initially thought that would mean Karbach Brewing Co. and Revolver Brewing, which are owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, respectively, would have to close their taprooms, but a revision of the bill grandfathered in breweries open before Jan. 1.
At a hearing Saturday, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, one of the bill's authors, said there was "a lot of confusion about my bill — what it does and who it affects." He said the language is meant to prevent craft breweries that are acquired by big companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, from taking market share from small, independently-owned ones.
"I filed it to save the craft breweries in the state," Goldman said. "I support your independence."
But critics worry H.B. 3287 will hinder craft breweries' growth potential in the long run. Late last week, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents more than 100 craft breweries, circulated a petition in opposition to the bill, stating that its objective is to impose a distribution tax on breweries that want to keep their taprooms open. Nearly 9,000 people signed the petition, according to Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the guild.
"We believe that [H.B. 3287] ultimately lowers the value of a brewery from an investment standpoint, and we also believe that it's completely inappropriate for the distributor to get paid for beer they do not distribute," Vallhonrat said. "It's kind of amazing there could be a government-imposed revenue source for a distributor for something they don't do."
Several representatives seemed to agree that the bill did little to support craft breweries. On Saturday, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, introduced an amendment that also would have allowed breweries to sell beer to-go, but it failed to pass.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, introduced two amendments that, first, would have forced a distributor to physically transport beer from a brewery back to the brewery to be able to collect a fee, or second, would have only allowed distributors to collect an administrative fee for doing the paperwork. Both failed.
Tinderholt expressed concern that H.B. 3287 aimed to take advantage of small businesses.
"We're essentially letting distributors run the show," he said during the hearing.
GuideLive reached out to several Texas distributors, which were not immediately available for comment.
The state of Texas' relationship with its alcohol distributors has come under fire in recent months, in part because of a story by the Texas Tribune called "Liquor regulators partying on taxpayers' tab." The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, which oversees the alcohol industry, reportedly spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to attend lavish conferences, according to the Tribune.
In April, following a hearing by the Texas Ethics Commission, TABC executive director Sherry Cook announced her retirement.