In Texas Senate, craft brewers fight for off-premise sales, try to ward off taproom tax

Kyser Lough for American-Statesman. Texas breweries with financial backing from other larger breweries, like Independence Brewing, pictured here, might have to pay distributors for every beer they sell in their taprooms under a proposed law making its way through the Senate.

Texas is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t allow its breweries to sell beer directly to consumers for their enjoyment off-site. Texas also ranks 46th in breweries per capita.

Those two facts were repeated often during a morning Senate committee hearing in which a number of people involved in the brewing industry — brewers and distributors alike — voiced their thoughts on Senate Bill 1217 and Senate Bill 2083, two craft beer-focused bills with very different aims.

SB 1217 would allow breweries to join Texas wineries, distilleries and brewpubs in selling their products for off-premise consumption, while SB 2083, the companion bill to House Bill 3287, would seek to limit breweries that grow beyond a certain size or become owned by a larger beer company. To sell beer in their taprooms, these breweries (which include Austin’s Oskar Blues and Independence Brewing) might have to first sell the beer to their distributor and buy it back.

The Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this weekend not to legalize taproom beer purchases for off-site consumption and also voted in favor of the limitations on larger breweries, those making 225,000 barrels or more of beer per year.

Proponents of the latter bill, namely distributors through the trade groups Beer Alliance of Texas and Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, argue that it prevents large multinational breweries from “gobbling up” Texas’ small craft breweries and having “access to multiple taprooms across the state,” Rick Donnelly, representing the Beer Alliance, said during the committee hearing this morning.

That would be in violation of the three-tier system, Keith Strama, counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, added in later testimony, a system that “has allowed for an incredibly competitive marketplace and allows smalls breweries to thrive in a way that other commodities can’t do because of the inability to get to market without a distribution tier.”

In that way, SB 2083 protects small craft breweries in the state, according to the bill’s author, State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

But that’s not how the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the organization representing these brewers, or the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the organization representing the state’s small businesses, see it. Both came out against SB 2083 at the hearing, along with numerous brewers, including Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing and Amy Cartwright of Independence Brewing, one of the directly affected breweries.

They argue that SB 2083 and the already-passed HB 3287 — which at the moment directly affect only a small number of brewers, mainly those owned by larger breweries like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors — would discourage investors and limit their businesses’ growth.

Josh Hare, owner of Hops & Grain Brewing and board chairman of the guild, spoke out against the proposed payment larger breweries would have to make to distributors for their taproom beers, calling it a tax. His brewery is in the process of opening a new location in San Marcos.

“If we exceed the collective 225,000 barrel limit, we would be forced then to sell our beer to a wholesaler, buy it back to sell in our tasting room, and it would dramatically cut into our margins and ultimate profitability. I would also like to emphasize here that the beer would never leave our brewery. It would just be paper moving around,” he said. “The wholesaler would place a dock bump tax on that transaction, receiving payment for no added value to what we’re doing on-site.”

Sweeping 2013 legislation allowed, among other things, for production breweries to sell up to 5,000 barrels of beer to consumers for on-site consumption. Breweries aren’t asking for that number to increase but do want to be able to also sell a six-pack to a customer to take home. That’s where SB 1217, from State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, comes in.

The bill restricts monthly purchases to 576 fl. oz. per consumer, the equivalent of two cases of beer. Brewers are in support of it; distributors are not.

“Data from other states shows that off-premise sales leads to more brewery openings, more beer tourism and more retail sales across every tier,” Michael Graham, co-founder of Austin Beerworks, said.

Donnelly, representing a wholesalers’ group, did not outright discuss why the group is against the bill but pointed out the issue of off-premise sales will be resolved in court because of an ongoing suit Deep Ellum Brewing, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has raised against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The question of taprooms selling beer to-go “involves some intricate points of federal law, including commerce clause issues, equal protection clause issues, but it also strikes at the very core of the 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Donnelly said, referencing the amendment that repealed Prohibition and gave the states total control over alcoholic beverages.

State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, asked for clarification about the amendment — how allowing Texas breweries to sell beer to-go, something 49 other states do in some capacity, would “strike at the core” of the U.S. Constitution.

“We repealed Prohibition and extended the right of every state to regulate our alcohol,” Donnelly said in reply.

“Right. And so we’re the only state that doesn’t allow this, though, right?” Estes said of off-premise sales.

“That is correct, but that’s a policy decision made by you as a legislature,” Donnelly said.

Neither of the bills have moved out of committee yet.

“De-hazed” New England IPA, 8 other beers to celebrate release of new Austin Beer Guide

I’ll be blunt: You might have other ideas about how to spend the night of April 20. But just in case you’re not all about cannabis culture, Austin Beer Guide is throwing its spring/summer release party at the Draught House.

For beer lovers, that’s the place to be on Thursday, when the Austin Beer Guide authors will celebrate the debut of another free issue exploring local beers and the beer community. Several special brews from Austin producers are going on draft, including a collaboration between the Draught House and Austin Beer Guide called Don’t Haze Me Bro. The clarified IPA, done in the juicy style of a New England IPA, will come with free glassware if you order it.

An Chih Cheng / American-Statesman. The Draught House is once again the site of the Austin Beer Guide release party.

Another beer to watch for is Friends & Allies’ new Kick Start Belgian Golden Ale with Flat Track Coffee. That will also be on tap on Saturday during the East Austin’s brewery’s grand opening celebration, but you might want to relish the unusual style early. In it, notes of berry, apple and pear mingle with hints of dark chocolate.

Plus, North by Northwest and Last Stand Brewing have collaborated on Mr. Rogers, an imperial pale lager with Citra and Mosaic hops that the two breweries created for Dripping Springs’ Founders Day this weekend.

Here’s the full list of beers to enjoy starting at 6 p.m. Thursday.

  • Draught House/Austin Beer Guide: Don’t Haze Me Bro
  • Blue Owl Brewing: Saison Puede Farmhouse Ale
  • Hops & Grain: Dispensary IPA
  • Jester King: Super Ultramega Hyperforce
  • Friends & Allies: Kick Start Belgian Golden Ale with Flat Track Coffee
  • North by Northwest: Mr. Rogers Imperial Pale Lager
  • Last Stand Brewing: Oatmeal IPA, double dry-hopped with Citra and Simcoe hops
  • Zilker Brewing: Hellsner, a step-mashed summer lager
  • Independence Brewing: Illustrated Man Dark Sour

For more information about Austin Beer Guide, visit austinbeerguide.com.

Austin Beerworks expands hours to seven days a week

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Celebrate Austin Beerworks' new taproom and brewery at a grand opening party Saturday
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin Beerworks will now be open seven days a week thanks to its brand-new, Michael Hsu-designed taproom.

Now that Austin Beerworks has a dedicated taproom, the North Austin brewery is making sure it’s open seven days a week so that we can get our beer fix in.

Austin Beerworks officially debuted the brand-new taproom earlier this month but waited a few weeks before implementing the hours change. Starting Monday, it’s now open from 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, 12 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays.

It will also be easier than ever to share beers with your entire table or to sample some of Austin Beerworks’ taproom-only releases. Also coming Monday are branded pitchers, 4 oz. sample flights with four pours and style-specific glassware.

As the brewery noted in their announcement of the exciting changes, “this whole dedicated taproom thing is pretty sweet.”

More Austin beer news:

  • The Yeti flagship store at the corner of Barton Springs Road and South Congress Avenue is hosting a weekend-long grand opening celebration and will have a handful of beers available at the bar area, where a back well is decked out in more than 12,000 bottle caps, among other neat features. The opening beer list, which will change out frequently in the future, includes Shiner Bock and Shiner Light Blonde, Live Oak Pilz, Austin Beerworks Eagle and Lone Star.
  • St. Elmo Brewing has started getting one of its beers — the easy-drinking Carl Kolsch — to a few local bars, including the Draught House and Wright Bros. Brew & Brew. The brewery isn’t aiming to have wide-scale distribution, so these places are a neat opportunity to have St. Elmo beers beyond the South Austin taproom.
  • After winning our hearts over with the now year-round Red Bud Berliner Weisse, Independence Brewing is introducing another canned sour brew to the market with Illustrated Man Dark Sour with Berries. Celebrate the launch tomorrow at a party that will double as a competition for tattoo lovers looking to win $300 toward their next tat.
  • Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse & Brewery is hosting an Academy Awards watch party starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday with free popcorn and a pretty special beer. The Hell or High LAWger, which the brewpub originally made in honor of the film “Hell or High Water,” is coming back on tap to celebrate the four Oscar nominations that the bank heist movie has gotten, including Best Picture. The lager features prickly pear cactus as a nod to the setting of “Hell or High Water,” the rough-and-tumble desert of West Texas.

January overflows with winter beer releases from Austin breweries

Uncle Billy's latest seasonal is the third beer in the brewpub's farm-to-keg series featuring locally made ingredients.
Uncle Billy’s latest seasonal is the third beer in the brewpub’s farm-to-keg series featuring locally made ingredients.

Although the temperature is heating back up to the low-80s this week, it’s still the season for dark beers — and Austin brewpubs and breweries are responding with an array of porters, stouts, barrel-aged brews and beers with winter flavors.

Here are some of the local beers to look out for this month and the next, too.

Austin Beerworks Sputnik: The one-time cans of the seasonal beer might be long gone, but you can still find Austin Beerworks’ beloved Russian imperial oatmeal stout on draft at bars around town, including at the Brass Tap Domain.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the beer bar is offering Sputnik, Sputniko, Battle Axe and Pearl Snap as part of an Austin Beerworks tap takeover.

The Elfie Sunshine, an imperial coffee milk stout, was made with cocoa nibs and coffee beans.
The Elfie Sunshine, an imperial coffee milk stout, was made with cocoa nibs and coffee beans.

Zilker Brewing’s Elfie Sunshine: The Coffee Milk Stout is a mainstay of the East Austin brewery, but Zilker has been riffing on it with a couple of additions to the taproom menu, including a version of it on nitro and an imperial coffee milk stout with cocoa nibs called Elfie Sunshine.

In it, according to Zilker, “expect everything you love about the original: the caramelized sugar, the creamy texture, and of course the locally roasted coffee (thanks, Wild Gift Coffee), just more of it.”

Independence Brewing’s Illustrated Man Dark Sour: Although this beer won’t be ready for full-scale release in cans until next month, there will be a pilot brew version of it in the Independence taproom. The Illustrated Man is tart, with blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries adding extra flavor to the dark-hued ale.

Get a pour of it starting at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Black Star Co-op Moebius: The brewpub put out a call to action at the end of last week, asking for customers to stop in and prevent a possible closure. A good time to be there is on Jan. 17, when the house beer Moebius is tapping as a Woodford Reserve Whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout.

According to Black Star, the rich and viscous “Moebius is a decadent beast of a beer” that clocks in at a robust 10 percent alcohol by volume. It taps at 5 p.m. next Tuesday.

Blue Owl Brewing’s Lord Admiral Gravitas: Remember Blue Owl’s Admiral Gravitas, a sour imperial oatmeal stout? This wood-aged version, which spent time in Balcones Brimstone barrels, takes the Admiral Gravitas up a boozy notch and has additional notes of oak, smoke and complexity.

The barrel-aged brew will only be found at the brewery taproom starting at 3 p.m. on Jan. 18, although the Admiral Gravitas is more widely available around town.

Uncle Billy’s Shakolad Chocolate Imperial Stout: This full-bodied stout full of cocoa nibs from Srsly Chocolate is Uncle Billy’s winter seasonal, and it certainly lives up to its name — Shakolad is Russian for ‘chocolate.’ The sweet addition has imbued the dark brew, at 9.5 percent ABV, with plum, dark cherry and cocoa characteristics and will have you yearning for those chilly winter temperatures again.

Have a dark beer with a cup of coffee at Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co. in Cedar Park this season.
Have a dark beer with a cup of coffee at Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co. in Cedar Park this season.

Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co.’s S.O.N. Double Stout with Coconut: The Son of Ninja series is just another example of the skill at the Cedar Park brewpub, which makes these rotating dark beers using an underutilized brewing technique called Parti Gyle.

This version is a double stout with a dash of lactose sugar to give it a smooth, sweet body. Don’t miss out on getting a pour of the 8 percent ABV brew because it won’t be around for long.

Pinthouse Pizza’s Fully Adrift Double IPA with Coffee: The beer might not be a seasonal porter or stout, but it’s got the coffee we like to have this time of year.

Stop into the Burnet Road brewpub on Jan. 21 for the second edition of the Pinthouse Pizza Fully Adrift Double IPA “Lost at Sea” series, which added a coffee infusion this go round. Starting at 11 a.m. that day, bottles of the beer will go on sale, and it’ll also be available on draft. Bottles are $14.99.

Done with 2016? Try End Credits, an Alamo and Independence beer collaboration

Independence Brewing Instagram. The Alamo Drafthouse and Independence Brewing, two local businesses, made a porter for us to toast the end of the year with.
Independence Brewing Instagram. The Alamo Drafthouse and Independence Brewing, two local businesses, made a porter for us to toast the end of the year with.

2016 hasn’t been the easiest year for many of us, after the deaths of icons like Prince and David Bowie, the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Florida and the incredibly contentious presidential election.

So the Alamo Drafthouse and Independence Brewing have teamed up to bring us a beer that will help us bid adieu to the year: the End Credits 2016, a chocolate hazelnut porter available at all of the theater’s Texas locations. The winter warmer is exactly the kind of beer you’ll want to relax with while curling up to a film at your neighborhood Alamo.

“This year was memorable, to say the least. Between Bowie, Prince and a never-ending presidential fistfight, we felt it important to send it off with a bang — like, light it on fire and back away slowly kind of bang,” John Gross, Alamo’s director of national beer promotions, said in a press release about the beer. “Working with our longtime pals at Independence to craft a perfect ‘you made it through 2016’ beer was a real pleasure — and truly the very least we could do.”

For the End Credits 2016, the Drafthouse and Independence Brewing — whose Austin Amber label design pays homage to the local theater chain’s iconic sign — wanted a style that was seasonally appropriate. They chose one, the porter, that Independence has never made before, adding Ghana cocoa nibs and hazelnut to supplement the subtly sweet flavors of the malts.

“It’s everything you could want in a porter and then some,” Independence’s head brewer Brannon Radicke said in the release.

Pair End Credits 2016 with one of these films coming to theaters in December. (Hint: a certain galaxy far, far away returns in the hopes of being a stand-alone splash, and there’s no doubt a new “Star Wars” flick also helps take away those 2016 blues.)

For more about Independence Brewing and other Austin beer, wine and spirits makers, check out the Austin360 Boozery Guide.

Events: Jester King’s Funk ‘n’ Sour Fest, Draught House’s 48th Anniversary

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Lambic fans, rejoice: Jester King is helping to bring the revered beers of Cantillon to Texas.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Jester King’s Funk ‘N’ Sour Fest pairs Texas restaurants with cideries, breweries, wineries and bartenders.

It’s about to become a very big month for Austin breweries — as well as for the people who love them. In addition to three anniversaries, October is bringing us Austin Beer Week, running this year from Oct. 28 through Nov. 6 with the usual irresistible lineup of events at bars, breweries and retail stores.

But that’s a story for another day. Here are some other events coming up in the next couple of weeks that we won’t want to miss.

Hops & Grain’s 5th Anniversary Party: Austin fell in love with Hops & Grain because of beers like The One They Call Zoe, but we’re being rewarded with far rarer brews at the party, which has year-round options like Zoe available as well barrel-aged beers, kettle-soured beers and more. The 78702 Kolsch with raspberries? We’re in.

The party kicks off at noon on Saturday, and there’s no need to buy a ticket ahead of time — just fork over $15 at the bar and you’ll get a commemorative anniversary glass and a punch card good for six 8 oz. pours of your choice.

Jester King’s Funk ‘n’ Sour Fest: The celebration of fine food and beer returns on Oct. 20 with more pairings of Texas restaurants with cideries, wineries and breweries (and even a bartender or two mixing up cocktails).

The tickets aren’t cheap — $85 per person — but the cost is worth it if you’re wanting a night under string lights at Jester King’s beautiful Hill Country brewery, with access to some of the best food and drink in Austin. (It’ll also be one of the first tastes of East Austin brewpub the Brewer’s Table.) Reserve your spot in line at the fest with eventbrite.

Here are this year’s pairings.

  • Antonelli’s Cheese with Midnight Cowboy
  • Bullfight with 5 Stones Artisan Brewery
  • The Brewers Table with La Cruz de Comal Wines
  • The Bruery (welcome beer)
  • Bufalina with Blue Owl Brewing
  • Dai Due with Lewis Wines
  • Emmer & Rye with Firestone Walker Barrel Works
  • The Hollow with Jester King Brewery
  • The Mercantile with Argus Cidery
  • Noble Sandwich Co. with the Collective Brewing Project
  • Salt & Time with Texas Keeper Cider
  • The Salty Sow with Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
  • Stiles Switch BBQ with Prairie Artisan Ales
  • Texas French Bread with Live Oak Brewing Co.
Kyser Lough for American-Statesman. Independence Brewing will be bursting with happy beer drinkers on its anniversary party Oct. 22.
Kyser Lough for American-Statesman. Independence Brewing will be bursting with happy beer drinkers on its anniversary party Oct. 22.

Independence Brewing’s 12th Anniversary Party: One of Austin’s original craft breweries, Independence is celebrating 12 years with a day full of rare and special beer tappings, music, food, pinball and more. Keg tappings on the hour include vintage Jasperilla Old Ale, aged Ten Barleywine, barrel-fermented saisons and barrel-aged Bootlegger Brown. The family and pet-friendly event offers a full lineup of live music throughout the day as well as barbecue from Evan LeRoy and tacos from Lotus Joint.

The fun runs from 2 to 10 p.m. Oct. 22. There’s no admission fee to get into the party; just pay for beer and food as you go.

Draught House Pub and Brewery’s 48th Anniversary Party: Nearly 50 years of this bar-turned-brewpub? That’s an impressive milestone you’ll want to toast to — and you can bet you’ll have a hard time choosing which beer to toast with because the Draught House, like always, will be bringing out all the best, rarest and most beloved brews for the celebration.

“Visitors to this British-style pub are sometimes surprised when they catch a glimpse of the tiny-but-mighty, seven-barrel brewery almost hidden in back, where brewer Josh Wilson has been creating a variety of unusual and classic beers for over 20 years,” according to the Draught House. “Creations such as grapefruit IPA and lactic black current stout have earned this neighborhood spot acclaim from near and far.”

At the party on Oct. 29 — which is technically during Austin Beer Week — there will be rare beers, ice cream sandwiches from local shop Moojo, food trucks including Best Wurst and the Beer Olympics: a series of games (yeast balloon toss, crap beer cornhole and keg lifting) for which the winners will get prizes.

The free 48th anniversary party starts at 1 p.m. Saturday and lasts all day.

The ABGB, other Texas breweries win big at Great American Beer Fest

The ABGB crew were all smiles Saturday when the brewpub won "Large Brewpub of the Year" at the Great American Beer Fest competition.
Jason E. Kaplan. The ABGB crew were all smiles Saturday when the brewpub won “Large Brewpub of the Year” at the Great American Beer Fest competition.

This year’s Great American Beer Festival, the biggest beer event in the country, proved to be another fruitful competition for Texas breweries.

Although the state’s brewers didn’t top 2014’s record of winning 16 gold, silver and bronze medals at GABF — or last year’s unprecedentedly high number of gold medals in particular — one local brewpub represented Texas’ potential as a craft beer powerhouse in a big way.

Held as always in Denver, the festival this weekend saw a record-shattering number of breweries participating in the competition. According to the Brewers Association, the organization that produces the fest each year, winners were selected from 7, 227 competition entries, a number nearly nine percent higher than the 6,647 entries last year and “surpassing all previous participation records.” A total of 1,752 breweries sent in their beers for judging.

All of that fierce competition didn’t matter for Austin’s the ABGB, however.

The brewpub on West Oltorf Street first learned at the awards ceremony on Saturday that it had grabbed a gold medal for the ABGB Industry Pilsner in the German Pilsner category. Not long afterward, the ABGB also nabbed a bronze medal for the Hell Yes Helles in the Munich-style Helles category.

Good things come in threes: the ABGB earned an even bigger honor at GABF later — the Large Brewpub of the Year Award. Receiving that prize was a first for the ABGB and for Texas brewers in general, too.

And getting it, on top of two medals, was far beyond anything that the ABGB’s brewers, Amos Lowe, Kim Mizner and Brian “Swifty” Peters, could have imagined.

“Winning either a pils or a helles medal would have made our year,” Peters said. “Winning both is a dream come true. Amos, Kim and I have been working towards this since we opened, and all of the hard work paid off with being awarded large brewpub of the year. You don’t allow yourself to ever think that you might win it. But now it’s ours and we did it with lagers! I can’t stop smiling.”

Lager beers are the ABGB’s specialty, as I noted in this recent profile I wrote about the brewpub in celebration of its three year anniversary. The ABGB’s brewers don’t just love making them — they are also very good at it.

“People bash lagers because they’re so subtle in flavor. Like the helles we have,” Peters said in the story. “They bash the beers because they can’t taste the flavors. But lagers are so precise and so clean.”

Texas breweries won a total of 12 awards at this year’s GABF, the 30th annual version of the festival. Though we’ve gotten less of a medal count than in the past two years, it’s worth remembering that competition was tougher than ever. On average, the Brewers Association noted, 75 beers were entered in each category, “making the 2016 Great American Beer Festival competition the most competitive ever.”

Here’s the list of winners:

  • The ABGB’s Industry Pilsner gold in German Pilsner category
  • The ABGB’s Hell Yes Helles bronze in Munich-style Helles
  • Adelbert’s Brewery’s Flyin’ Monks bronze in Belgian-style Dubbel or Quad
  • Community Beer Co.’s Witbier — bronze in Belgian-style Witbier
  • Grapevine Brewery’s Sir William English Brown Ale silver in English-style Brown
  • Independence Brewing’s Cucumber RedBud bronze in Field Beer
  • Nine Band Brewing’s Toad Choker Barleywine — bronze in Barleywine
  • Panther Brewing and Clifton Ellis’ Just Rye’te — gold in pro-am competition
  • Real Ale Brewing’s Real Heavy — gold in Scotch Ale
  • Revolver Brewing’s Anodyne Wheat Wine — gold in Other Strong Beer
  • Solid Rock Brewing’s Big Drought Stout — gold in Classic Irish Dry Stout