US. Texas Beer Distributors Back Legislation to Support Three-Tier System

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Legislation that would benefit Houston’s Saint Arnold and other Texas brewers picked up a major endorsement Tuesday: the distributors’ lobby.
Keith Strama, an attorney for the politically powerful Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, told a House committee that the group is “very happy” to support a substitute version of House Bill 602, which would let breweries hand visitors a small amount of beer following tours of their facilities.
The wholesalers group has opposed similar efforts in the past.
The existing three-tier regulatory system gives distributors exclusive rights to sell beer from the breweries to groceries, bars and liquor stores. Strama said the group believes changes to HB 602 would protect the system.
Strama also said a reduction in the amount of beer given out would ensure that the tours do not become de facto outlets for retail sales.
The amended version would allow breweries to distribute up to 144 ounces of beer—the equivalent of two six-packs of 12-ounce bottles. As originally written, the cap was 288 ounces. Visitors would be charged varying tour rates, depending on how much beer they want.
The amendment also clarifies that the measure applies not just to breweries that bottle their beer, but also to those that can their brews or package them in amounts other than 12 ounces. Likewise, breweries that sell draft beer only could provide take-home jugs called growlers that are sealed on-site.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said after the hearing that all revisions could be completed as early as today and voted out of the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee by week’s end.
Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Co., told the committee that more than 50,000 people toured his brewery last year. Being able to send those tourists home with beer would be his most important marketing tool, he said.
Wagner said afterward that he is cautiously optimistic about passage, after falling short in 2007 and 2009.
The wholesalers remain opposed to a separate measure to allow brewpubs—restaurants that make beer—to increase production and to package some beer for off-site sale through distributors.
Strama said the law allowing brewpubs clearly denotes them as retailers, and allowing them to sell off-premises could have consequences for the three-tier system.
The Beer Alliance of Texas, another distributor group, voiced support for both bills.