UPDATE: Texas breweries could be forced to pay distributors for taproom beers

Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. The 5,000 sq. ft. taproom at Oskar Blues Brewery regularly hosts philanthropic events and live music shows, but a new bill threatens its longevity.

UPDATE: The controversial Texas bill aiming to regulate the growth of the state’s breweries passed the Texas House of Representatives this weekend and faces a Senate vote later this week.

HB 3287, vehemently opposed by Texas craft brewers and pro-business groups, underwent key changes before being passed overwhelmingly in the House. Now, breweries like Oskar Blues making 225,000 barrels of beer per year or more are able to operate taprooms, but they must sell their beer to a distributor first and then buy it back for sale in their taprooms. The payment is essentially a tax on brewery sales.

The legislator behind the bill, state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, argued that it prevents mega breweries from gaining too strong a hold in Texas, but the opposition from state brewers believe the bill actually hurts their small businesses.

An amendment to allow sales of beer to-go in the taproom was proposed but ultimately did not pass. Texas winemakers and distillers are able to sell their products directly to customers for off-site consumption, and the state remains the only one in the U.S. that does not allow to-go taproom sales.

EARLIER: Texas brewers have been pushing for a number of beer-related bills to become state law — namely, that production breweries will be able to sell beer to go from their taprooms — but one of the first pieces of legislation up for debate might actually put some of those taprooms in danger of disappearing in their current form.

House Bill 3287, which has the full support of distributors, seeks to change the language of Texas law that allows breweries making no more than 225,000 barrels of beer per year to sell beer directly to consumers in their taprooms. That number is measured based on production at a single location, but the bill and its sister Senate Bill 2083 would now count premises “owned  directly or indirectly by the license holder or an affiliate or subsidiary.”

In other words, “if a brewery is financially connected to another brewery (either in or out of state), then the production at all breweries is considered when totaled and compared to the 225,000 barrel cap,” according to Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat. The organization, created to lobby for the interests of Texas craft brewers, came out against HB 3287 at a committee hearing last night.

The bill immediately affects three Texas breweries, including Austin’s own Oskar Blues, a brewery with additional locations in Colorado and North Carolina. DFW’s Revolver Brewing and Houston’s Karbach Brewing, purchased last year by MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, respectively, also don’t make the cut.

Locally run Independence Brewing, which received an undisclosed investment from California’s Lagunitas Brewing last summer, may also feel the sting of the bill if it passes, but the language is too ambiguous, Vallhonrat said, to say for sure.

Authored by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, HB 3287 appears primarily to benefit distributors in the state. They worry that the purchase of Revolver and Karbach by very large beer conglomerates harms the three-tier system ruling the flow of alcohol from producers to retailers to consumers. Distributors are the middlemen bringing the beer from the breweries to bars and stores, where customers can then purchase it.

With AB InBev scooping up Karbach, which has a restaurant and biergarten serving 2,000 to 3,000 guests per week, distributor trade groups Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas and the Beer Alliance of Texas argue that the beer behemoth is able to sell beer directly to consumers.

“The main issue is to defend the system from larger breweries entering all three tiers,” Keith Strama, counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, said at the committee hearing. He added that not doing so could cause a vertical monopoly.

But that’s not how organizations like the Texas Craft Brewers Guild see it.

“This approach is like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly,” Josh Hare, owner of Hops & Grain and board chairman of the guild, said at the committee hearing. “We believe there is a better path for protecting small businesses in Texas without immediately placing a ceiling on their growth potential.”

His brewery — which is opening an additional facility in San Marcos that will still put Hops & Grain well under the 225,000 barrel cap — isn’t directly affected by HB 3287, but Vallhonrat said there’s an intangible downside to the bill as well.

“All manufacturing breweries operating tap rooms can and should consider their tap room as a major asset of their business,” he said. “Independent of any outside interest from a larger brewery to acquire one of our members, the fact that it could, and has, happened means tap rooms have distinct value. That value can be used in seeking other lines of funding or credit, despite being quite intangible. By eliminating that asset from even a theoretical transaction, something of value is being taken away from our members.”

The guild is most worried about Oskar Blues Brewery, which chose to open a new facility in Austin last year because of the city’s quirky, irreverent vibe and deep love of live music. Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis said at the hearing that he wouldn’t have considered the move if this bill had been in the works back then.

Other large craft breweries won’t consider an expansion here in the future, either, Hare said.

“Taprooms have become an integral part of brewery culture, but most importantly, they’re the most effective, direct and hands-on way that we can market our product,” Katechis said. “If (HB 3287) passed, I have to think we’d be forced to lay off at least some of the employees that work there. I don’t understand how that’s even conscionable.”

The bill is a similar blow to Karbach Brewing, which co-founder Ken Goodman outlined in both a Houston Chronicle editorial and at the hearing, sparking a slightly combative tone throughout the remainder of it by making a heated comment about the United Airlines controversy last week that resulted in a passenger being forcibly removed from a plane.

“I don’t know what United Airlines passenger felt like, but I know what I feel like getting punched by this legislation,” he said. “This bill puts me out of business immediately.”

Multimillion dollar expansion underway for Banger’s on Rainey Street

Contributed by Maker Architects. Banger’s will be comprised of three buildings starting next year.

An expansion of the popular Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden will add an extra 15,000 sq. ft. of dining, lounge, event and performance space and give it one of the largest draft systems in Texas.

The new building, being constructed starting today, is located at 81.5 Rainey Street, just north of the current set of brick-red bungalows in what had previously been a staff parking lot. Banger’s is aiming for a March 2018 opening (in time for SXSW) of the additional location and assures customers the construction won’t affect operations at the current bar, according to a press release.

Once it opens, Banger’s will be able to greatly expand what it’s able to offer with food, drink and entertainment.

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/r1tnyC4Q_default/index.html?videoId=2226767695001

One of the most exciting changes for beer lovers will be the second custom 101-tap draft system that will mean the Rainey Street bar will have a total of 207 taps — nearly the largest amount in Texas and one of the largest in the world. There will also be a special beer cellar to age and store rare and small-batch brews.

But Banger’s owner Ben Siegel is perhaps most excited about the expansion of the food program.

“We’ve spent about three years designing this project, and I’m very proud of where we landed. This expansion allows us to not only grow our existing business, but also expand the experience that we offer to our customers, both now and well into the future,” Siegel said in the press release.  “More than anything, this expansion is going to allow us to do a lot more cool stuff in the world of cooking, curing, roasting and smoking whole animals and their various parts.”

That’s because the new building will have a smokehouse and a full meat processing facility, as well as a basement vegetable fermentation and pickling area, among other additional amenities.

For more information, visit bangersaustin.com.

This post has been updated to clarify that the new Banger’s draft system is one of the largest in the state. 

Barbecue Wife wins big at entrepreneurial competition at SXSW

Contributed by Boston Beer Co. Catherine Stiles, of Barbecue Wife, won a competition among small business owners in Austin at SXSW.

The local maker of an all-natural Bloody Mary mix distilled her dream about the business into a cohesive pitch that won over the judges and the audience at the Pop-Up Pitch Room competition at South by Southwest this weekend.

Catherine Stiles, owner of the spicy mix she calls Barbecue Wife, took home both the main prize of the $10,000 business grant and the $5,000 People’s Choice Award. The Pop-Up Pitch Room is the brainchild of Boston Beer Co., the brewery behind Samuel Adams beers and Brewing the American Dream, a philanthropic program that fueled the creation of the competition.

“I’m still in shock and so very humbled by the win. I was both the judges’ selection and the People’s Choice selection, so it was a surreal day,” Stiles said via email.

She was the head of one of five Austin-based food and beverage small businesses that competed in the Pop-Up Pitch Room, with each business owner giving two-minute pitches about their projects.

Samuel Adams’ Brewing the American Dream — which also released a collaboration beer at the event with locally located Infamous Brewing— “provides micro-lending, coaching and mentoring to food, beverage, and craft brewing small business owners nationwide and welcomed Grand Prize and People’s Choice winner Barbecue Wife Bloody Mary Mix to its national network of innovative and passionate entrepreneurs,” according to a news release.

The other participants in the Pop-Up Pitch Room competition include Joe’s Microgreens, Banner Distilling, FOND Bone Broth and GFY Kitchen. Stiles, however, presented the best pitch.

She has been producing the Bloody Mary mix since 2015 using the barbecue sauce from her husband Shane’s restaurant, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. The result is a perfectly balanced savory mixture of smoke and heat and is available at a variety of Austin retailers, including Whole Foods, Breed & Co, and Twin Liquors.

And if you’re looking for some Bloody Mary goodness at the rest of the fest this week, Barbecue Wife will be served at Rachael Ray’s SXSW party.

Austin’s Infamous Brewing teamed up with Boston Beer Co. for SXSW beer

Infamous Brewing made a smoked oyster stout in collaboration with Boston Beer Co.
Infamous Brewing made a smoked oyster stout in collaboration with Boston Beer Co.

Bud Light might be the official beer of South by Southwest once more, but staunch craft beer fans will still be able to enjoy a local brew made in support of a business-oriented SXSW event.

Austin’s Infamous Brewing collaborated with the nationally recognized Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams beers, to create BOS X AUS, a limited-edition smoked oyster stout that will be on tap at the March 12 event and at a small amount of local bars and restaurants near the festival.

Where’s the party at? Check out our guide to the best unofficial parties at SXSW 2017

The two breweries teamed up in part because of their history together: Infamous took part in Samuel Adams’ Brewing the American Dream program a few years ago — the same competition that the Boston brewery is staging during SXSW. Samuel Adams’ Pop-Up Pitch Room Competition runs from 3 to 5:30 p.m. March 12 at Whole Foods.

At the competition, business owners have two minutes to present the merits of their product and business to a panel of expert judges, who will then decide whose pitch is the winner based on factors like passion, creativity and quality of the presentation.

Samuel Adams brewer Jennifer Glanville, who was among the Boston Beer crew that traveled to Austin to produce BOS X AUS at Infamous, will be one of the judges, along with Lockhart Steele, co-founder of Eater.com, and two others.

“We’re privileged to create a unique brew with a truly pioneering company!” Infamous Brewing wrote on Facebook last month. “Our BOS x AUS Smoked Oyster Stout will surely be one for the books. Working alongside such experienced and knowledgeable brewers is a humbling endeavor.”

Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch started up Brewing the American Dream as a way to share financial help and business advice that he wishes he’d had starting the brewery 33 years ago.

Following the SXSW competition, Infamous Brewing will celebrate its 4th anniversary on March 18 with a crawfish boil, 16 draft beers and live music.

Index Fest, formerly Untapped, to come to Austin in May with beer, music and more

The festival celebrating craft beer and live music is returning to various cities across Texas this year and Austin will get another taste of it on May 13. Early bird tickets go on sale today.

Index Festival, formerly Untapped, is coming to Texas cities this year, Austin in the spring.
Index Festival, formerly Untapped, is coming to Texas cities this year, Austin in the spring.

Now Index Fest as a result of new ownership, the festival aims to offer much of the same as its previous incarnation, but in addition to the beer and music that made Untapped a fun affair, Index will have an expanded focus. “The long-term vision for Index Fest includes elevating the new components of high-quality food and arts to similar levels,” according to a press release.

That’s the goal of current owner Brad Weiss, who provided production services for past Untapped Festivals since 2014 and was excited to acquire it and make it his own.

“I’m privileged to have the opportunity to bring even more culture and culinary delight to cities across Texas,” Weiss said in the release. “We’re building on Untapped’s enormously fun and flavorful craft beer and music programming with elevating additions in food and arts. I can’t wait to share it with communities all over the state.”

Index Fest which is also coming to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio is open to all ages. Tickets for the Austin version, which will take place in the Austin American-Statesman’s parking lot at 305. S. Congress Ave., are going on sale today at indexfest.com.

Announcements about the live music acts and craft beer vendors, as well as the coming arts and food focus, will be made at a later date.

What to expect from Alamo Drafthouse Mueller and its Barrel O’ Fun bar

Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. The carnival-themed Barrel O' Fun has actual boardwalk games in addition to drinks inspired by old-fashioned soda fountains.
Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. The carnival-themed Barrel O’ Fun has actual boardwalk games in addition to drinks inspired by old-fashioned soda fountains.

The new Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller is gearing up to open with a focus on kid-friendly activities by day and more adult-centric fun by night in addition to offering six theaters with reclining chairs, gender-neutral bathrooms and plenty of validated garage parking. It opens March 9 for the general public.

There’s no doubt film fans are going to love the second-story walk to each of the theaters; as with other locations, the Alamo Drafthouse has decked out the long hallway with film posters and other wall art, as well as a Devil’s Tower with Spaceship installation that acts as the Mueller location’s photo op spot, in a nod to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

But perhaps the biggest highlight of the sixth Alamo Drafthouse in Austin for many will be the carnival-themed Barrel O’ Fun space on the ground floor, which the company has gone above and beyond to make sure it straddles two very different audiences.

By day, the Barrel O’ Fun the entrance to which is, in fact, shaped like a gigantic barrel provides family-friendly fun; by night, starting at 8 p.m., the place transforms into a bar (so that’s when you call it the Bar O’ Fun, OK?). But there are elements of the hangout that people of all ages will enjoy.

For instance, the room has functioning boardwalk games, such as Eggs in a Basket, Chunk the Puck and Toss Off. One side of the barrel-shaped drinks menu at Barrel O’ Fun is entirely nonalcoholic, but they aren’t your typical Coke and Dr. Pepper offerings. Instead, even adults might gravitate toward house-made sodas like the Cherry-Lime Rickey (cherry syrup, lime and seltzer) and floats and ice cream sodas like the Snickerdoodle (ginger beer and Mexican cinnamon ice cream).

Flip over the menu for the alcoholic potions. The program, originally designed by the Alamo Drafthouse’s beverage director Bill Norris, takes a focus on barrel-aged cocktails, highballs and flips. Bar O’ Fun bar manager Ryan Hollowell, fresh from other esteemed bar programs in town like Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, is excited to soon put his own stamp on the boozy offerings with an upcoming secret shots menu.

He’s particularly excited about the barrel-aged drinks like the Perfect Martini (London dry gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and orange bitters in blue corn whiskey barrels). Bar O’ Fun also has 45 beer taps, with an opening menu that includes the Oasis, TX Brewing Slow Ride Pale Ale, Independence Austin Amber, (512) Dubbel, Community Mosaic IPA and Zilker Coffee Milk Stout.

No matter what time of day you’re there, Hollowell said, you’ll find something on the drinks menu that will appeal to you.

“We went with a soda fountain theme, so there’s a lot of really cool kind of throwback-inspired (nonalcoholic) cocktails,” he said of the Barrel O’ Fun side. “We make our own syrups in-house, really beautiful black cherry soda, awesome traditional Brooklyn-style egg creams as well. At night, we took all of those ideas and transitioned them into cocktail menus. Our highballs are all based on those syrups, those homemade natural elixirs and tinctures that we’re working with, as well as adult egg creams and milkshakes.”

At night, a stage at the far end of Bar O’ Fun will enliven the space with DJ sets and bands, especially during happy hour. The games will be available to play in the later hours as well. Food includes a focus on wood as well, with items like wood-planked broccolini (cheddar cheese polenta and wood-roasted broccolini).

The upstairs theaters which range in size from 43-person to 136-person rooms, all with comfy reclining seats will also have their own food and drink menus. The food side, in particular, is going to have new items, without abandoning fan favorites.

“We definitely are holding onto a lot of the classics here that we’ve been successful with in the past, but to be really honest, we noticed there was certain areas of our menu that we wanted to update,” Alamo chef Trish Eichelberger said. “This facility is a really great place to start testing and updating, making an effort to be even more hands-on, to have an even more from-scratch menu… We have a wonderful tofu banhi mi-type sandwich; we have a roasted pork sandwich. We’ve got a couple new pizzas.”

It’s also worth noting that the gender-neutral bathrooms, the sound of which could stir up a fuss, guarantee you complete privacy, with floor-to-ceiling walls not just stalls in between each toilet and doors for each one. The 36,559 sq. ft. Mueller theater has six separate urinals for men and two family-accessible bathrooms with changing tables upstairs as well.

The hours for Barrel O’ Fun are 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sundays. Alamo Drafthouse Mueller is located at 1911 Aldrich St., in the up-and-coming Mueller town center known as the Aldrich Street District.

For more information, visit drafthouse.com/austin/theater/mueller.

Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. Installations like the Barrel O' Fun entrance were fabricated by Blue Genie Art Industries.
Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. Installations like the Barrel O’ Fun entrance were fabricated by Blue Genie Art Industries.

Eight Austin coffee shops join nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU

Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Houndstooth Coffee is one of the participating coffee shops in Sprudge's nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU.
Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Houndstooth Coffee is one of the participating coffee shops in Sprudge’s nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU.

A handful of local coffee shops have stepped forward to participate in a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union — a nonprofit that has received a record number of donations since President Donald Trump’s executive order last week severely restricting immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries.

The fundraiser has been organized by Sprudge, a publication that ordinarily writes about coffee and the caffeinated culture surrounding it.

Austin coffee shops taking part in it are Fleet Coffee Co., Epoch Coffee, the Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, Caffe Medici, Vintage Heart Coffee, Houndstooth Coffee, Once Over Coffee Bar and Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors. Each one will donate a portion of their profits today through Sunday to the ACLU. In addition to those funds, Sprudge has announced that it will match the first $500 that each of 26 participating coffee brands raise, Fleet among them.

“We are honored to be a part of a nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU this weekend, February 3-5,” Fleet Coffee wrote on Instagram. Twenty percent “of all revenue will be donated to this great cause. On top of that, we will have a jar available to collect additional donations.”

Each of the coffee shops might be doing something a little different to help.

Once Over Coffee on South First Street, for instance, is also contributing 20 percent of all weekend sales to the campaign, while Caffe Medici — which has five locations around the city — is donating 20 percent of sales from all of their shops on Sunday to Refugee Services of Texas-Austin, “which helps welcome and support people who are coming to our state,” as the coffee company noted on Instagram.

Then there’s Houndstooth, located in both Austin and Dallas, which is matching the first $1,000 in donations at each cafe. At the Brew & Brew, located in East Austin, order a filter or iced coffee if you want your money to benefit the ACLU. And at Vintage Heart on East Seventh Street, 5 percent of all drink sales are being donated.

But these local coffee purveyors aren’t the only ones contributing to the cause. Since Sprudge organized the fundraiser earlier this week, more than 175 coffee brands and more than 400 cafes around the United States have decided to participate in it.

The publication said in its announcement of the nationwide fundraiser that it does not normally get involved in political matters. That changed last week with President Trump’s executive order.

“We believe that the current executive order banning refugees from the United States and immigration from 7 majority Muslim nations is illegal, immoral, and fundamentally un-American,” Sprudge wrote. “Like a hot mug of drip coffee spilled on a crisp white apron, these actions are a dark stain on our national conscience, and as Americans, we feel compelled to stand up against them.”