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Take It To Go? Local Owner Pushes To Allow Breweries To Sell Pre-Packaged Beer In Texas

Holler Brewing Co. owners Kathryn and John Holler

Holler Brewing Co. owner John Holler does not want to jinx the process but is hoping by the end of the 86th Texas Legislature session, Texas breweries will be able to sell beer to go. March 8 is the last day to submit bills, and the session will conclude on May 27

Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 672 would allow craft breweries to sell beer to go directly to consumers — up to two cases of beer (48 12-ounce cans) per day, per customer.

"This is fantastic," Holler said. "It is something that our customers ask us about every single day, and we have to tell them no. It is something we would sell if we were allowed."   

Texas is the only state that doesn't allow to-go beer sales for breweries, a regulation rooted in the days of Prohibition about 80 years ago, Holler said. However, customers can go into a Texas winery and purchase wine and take it home or a distillery and buy whiskey to go.   

A few weeks ago, the Beer Alliance of Texas, a group for Texas beer distributors, and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild agreed to support the proposed legislation. 

The bills also call a truce between brewers, distributors and retailers, Holler said. For the next 12 years, neither side can lobby to change any other beer-related laws, such as limits on production.

Talks to allow breweries to sell to-go beer have been in the works for about 15 years, Holler said. In 2013, Texas passed a law that allows breweries to sell beer in a taproom.

Since then, the number of craft breweries has quadrupled in Houston, according to NAI Partners' Houston Craft Beer Market Insight report. Brewpubs, which to the customers may appear similar to a brewery, can sell a limited amount of pre-packaged beer products. 

Holler Brewing Co. at 2206 Edwards St. in Houston

Houston breweries expect several benefits from the possibility to sell to-go beer. Local and out-of-state customers can buy beer and take it home or share it with friends and family, which would help raise brand loyalty and recognition. 

"We are tired of having the same conversation with our customers, and they ask why not. We do not have a good reason," Holler said.  

This is also an issue of finances. To-go beer sales could add about 10% in revenue to breweries' bottom line, though it would cut revenues for Texas beer distributors, Holler said.

Texas beer distributors have been the biggest opponent to this legislature, Holler said. When Prohibition was repealed in Texas in 1935, one of the requirements was that beer sales had to go through a distributor, which was intended to ensure temperance.

"There was a lot of anxiety that we would drift back into the drunkenness of speakeasy and pre-Prohibition," he said. 

But times have changed in the last 84 years.

"We have come a long way," Holler said. "I don't think any reasonable person would say you need that anymore. Yes, of course, you have alcoholism, but that is not caused by breweries like us. I don't think distributors are preventing people from overconsumption."

Texas law also requires a brewery to use only one distributor and is bound to that distributor for life, which creates a competition-free marketplace, Holler said. Distributors did not want to compete with breweries, even if it provides a low-cost supply chain and low-emission process between the breweries and the consumers, he said.   

Brewery owners like Holler hope consumers' desire to support and buy locally sourced beer will help the bills make progress this legislative session.   

"That is what we trying to make happen here in 2019: dial up the public pressure," he said. "People realize that this is a freaky outrage: 'I cannot go into a brewery and buy beer because Texas said so.' There is really no public safety angle, no angle but protecting the special interest." 

If a law passes allowing to-go sales, Holler expects to start canning beer slowly. He will purchase a Crowley machine, which will allow him to produce one can at a time and will connect to the tap wall. He plans to start by selling 19-ounce or 32-ounce cans. Holler Brewing Co. has one taproom at 2206 Edwards St. in Houston. 

It would take a few weeks for Holler Brewing Co. to start selling packaged beer products for off-site consumption. While he has done some preliminary planning, he wants to wait for the bill to be passed before moving full speed ahead.