Texas brewers lose legislative fight over taproom bill, headed to governor’s desk

Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman. Self-distributing breweries like Austin Beerworks will be affected by HB 3287, which just passed the Senate and now just needs Governor Greg Abbot’s pen to become law.

Texas brewers were dealt a blow this afternoon when House Bill 3287, which seeks to limit breweries that grow beyond a certain size or become owned by a larger beer company, passed the Texas Senate by a 19-10 vote.

The bill will now head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, but the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, representing the state’s breweries, isn’t ready to give up yet and has announced that it will continue to fight against it in the hopes of a veto from Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

“This bill will put a ceiling on success for the 200+ craft breweries operating in Texas and will slow the future growth of what has become an important burgeoning manufacturing industry in our state,” the guild wrote in a statement published on Facebook shortly after HB 3287 passed.

HB 3287, pushed by wholesalers through the trade groups Beer Alliance of Texas and Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, will change the Texas beer code in the following ways.

  • Breweries making 225,000 barrels of beer per year (a calculation that includes the amount of barrels from any affiliate brewery with a 25 percent or more stake in the company) cannot operate a tasting room.
  • There are exceptions to this rule, however. Current breweries over this limit have been grandfathered in and will still be able to keep their taproom doors open, but they and future breweries eligible for exception have to pay their distributor for all beers they sell in their taprooms. Austin’s Oskar Blues Brewery is affected, and any future taproom locations of breweries like Houston’s Karbach Brewing — now owned by Anheuser-Busch — will also have to pay up. They can have up to three tasting rooms.
  • Self-distributing breweries can only self-distribute a total of 40,000 barrels across all locations; anything above that has to be sold through a distributor. In other words, single-premises breweries like Austin Beerworks and Live Oak Brewing can only expand so much if they want to keep their independence from the wholesale tier.

Given that Texas brewers had hoped 2017 would be the year Texas allows its breweries to sell beer directly to customers for off-premise consumption, HB 3287, which they see as taking some of their rights away, has been a big blow.

“To say that today’s outcome was incredibly disheartening would be to put it mildly,” the Texas Craft Brewers Guild said it in its statement on Facebook.

But wholesalers argue that the bill prevents large multinational breweries from “gobbling up” Texas’ small craft breweries and having “access to multiple taprooms across the state,” Rick Donley, representing the Beer Alliance, said at a previous committee hearing. That sort of access would be a violation of the three-tier system.

It’s “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,” Keith Strama, counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, later said in the same hearing.

The only hope now for brewers to be able to sell beer to-go from their taprooms is a lawsuit that Dallas-Fort Worth’s Deep Ellum Brewing and others have lodged against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a case currently still tied up in the courts. Texas remains the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t permit its breweries to offer packaged beers for off-premise enjoyment.

Rosé all day with 100 wines featured at Whip In’s 6th Annual Pink Mahal

Photo by Matt McGinnis. Try a variety of different rosé wines at Whip In’s returning Pink Mahal tasting this weekend.

Rosé is red-hot, and the Whip In knows it.

The 6th Annual Pink Mahal, a celebration of rosé wine, returns this weekend with the largest selection of rosé in the city: about 100 available for tasting (although tickets will only supply you three glasses, so choose well).

Arguably, the wine and beer bar, Indian restaurant, live music venue and bottle shop in South Austin knew how good rosé is a couple of years before it became such a sought-after style of wine. (The Whip In did the same with craft beer, too, in the Budweiser-dominant 1980s and ’90s.) The wine, previously scorned as pink wine or blush wine, has achieved its near-universal popularity only in the last few years.

Rosé wine —  a style that gets more color from grape skin contact than white wine but not enough to be considered red wine — is in the midst of a heyday, especially in Texas, where the wine is a refreshing complement to our hot, hot summers. It’s not hard to guess why we want rosé all day.

In addition to coming in shades in between red and white wine, the diverse rosé is a perfect middle ground between them: able to be made with a variety of red wine grapes but resulting in a lighter body and brighter flavors more similar to white wine.

From 1 to 5 p.m. on May 20, both Whip In’s patio and wine bar will have rosé exclusively, having both large-format bottles and even some of the wine on tap. The $35 tickets get you three glasses of any of the rosé and access to an appetizer bar with “plenty of pink-friendly pairings,” according to Whip In. Additional glasses can be purchased for $5.

Don’t miss the Dandy Rosé from Rae Wilson of Wine for the People, which is helping to produce the event. Made with all Texas-grown grapes, the wine is a dry French-style rosé — an example of the delicious locally grown and produced wines that Texas excels at making.

Zilker Brewing’s Parks & Rec Pale Ale named for one of Austin’s favorite things

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Zilker Brewing’s newest canned beer was made to highlight Zilker Park’s 100th anniversary.

The name of Zilker Brewing’s latest canned beer suggests that the brewers have a particular fondness for the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” — but it’s actually a nod to something a little more homegrown.

Urban brewery Zilker Brewing, co-founded by brothers Patrick and Forrest Clark and their friend Marco Rodriguez, is about to release a limited liquid homage to Zilker Park, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The Parks & Rec Pale Ale is the result of a collaboration between the brewery and the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation and officially debuts at the Yeti Flagship store on May 25.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the beer will go toward the Austin Parks Foundation to maintain Zilker Park, “the crown jewel of our parks system,” according to the foundation’s CEO Colin Wallis.

Giving back to a community-oriented organization like the foundation was an easy decision for Rodriguez and the Clarks to make, who “make it a priority to enrich the neighborhood we’re in however we can,” Patrick Clark said. “A big part of Austin is our outdoor spaces. If we can help those stay beautified, that’s a no-brainer for us.”

The brewery has taken its cues from namesake Andrew Zilker, an important figure in Austin’s history who gifted Barton Springs and the surrounding land, formerly part of his 40-acre ranch, to the city to be used as public parkland. He was both a philanthropist and an entrepreneur, but he got his start in Central Texas, as the story goes, with just a few cents in his pocket.

Also significant to the founders of Zilker Brewing is that during his successful career, he had ties to the beverage industry, with an ice-making business and bottling company, using the clean water from Barton Springs itself to make the ice.

The Parks & Rec Pale Ale, light and refreshing but still full of citrusy flavor, is intended to be enjoyed somewhere outside this summer.

Rodriguez, who oversees the brewing program at Zilker Brewing, made the beer with “old-school” hops like Cascade, with Centennial, he said, being the most pronounced in honor of the 100th anniversary of the park. These more established hops have fallen in popularity thanks to newer, more exciting varieties like Mosaic and Citra, which means the former hops’ aromas and flavors are becoming unfamiliar and thus “like new again,” he said.

“It’s a hop formulation we really loved and thought was appropriate for the beer: bright and citrusy, crisp and refreshing, rather than dank and bitter,” Patrick Clark said. “It’s nice when people say they would drink it outside, and they tell you that unsolicited. Because that’s exactly what we were going for — something to be enjoyed outdoors.”

The cans of Parks & Rec Pale Ale — largely designed by the brewery’s design firm Zocalo with a special Zilker Park 100th anniversary commemoration on it — launch during happy hour, 4 to 8 p.m., on May 25, at the Yeti store, 220 S. Congress Ave. Buy a special Zilker Brewing-branded Yeti Colster and you’ll get a free can of the beer. All sales from the Colsters will also be donated to the Austin Parks Foundation.

Zilker Park’s 100th anniversary is a year-long celebration with more things to come. For more information, visit zilker100.com.

Should Texas wine be made with 100 percent Texas-grown grapes?

Miguel Lecuona for American-Statesman. William Chris Vineyards makes wine from 100 percent Texas-grown grapes and supports a House bill that would require all wineries to use state fruit for a Texas label.

Far fewer people now doubt that Texas can make wine on par with California, France and other top winemaking regions of the world. With the reputation of the state’s flourishing wine industry secure, a small but growing group of winemakers believe the next step should be authenticity — a law establishing that wine can only be granted Texas appellation if it’s made from 100 percent Texas-grown grapes.

Others in the industry, including the main organization Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, are against the proposed bills, House Bill 1514 and Senate Bill 1833, that would seek to make this designation a reality. They argue that the state’s grape growers haven’t yet established they have the yields, year after year, to fully supply the winemakers, especially when vineyards are so often at the mercy of the weather.

But for Chris Brundrett, arguably the biggest proponent of the bill and the co-owner of William Chris Vineyards in Hye, a small town on the road to Fredericksburg, there’s one irrefutable reason to support what he calls greater transparency with Texas wine: because it will lend more significance to the notion of Texas wine, especially to many of the state’s own consumers who expect their wine to have been grown here, too, and not just made or processed here.

“We want to grow this industry and want our consumers to know that if we put Texas on the label, it means as much as Washington or California,” Brundrett said, citing two states with more stringent labeling guidelines.

Like other states besides California, the Texas wine industry currently follows federal labeling regulations. Wines can have an appellation of origin (a geographical indication given to certain products derived from a specific place) if they’re made with a minimum of 75 percent grapes grown in that state. The other 25 percent can come from anywhere.

HB 1514 and its Senate counterpart would seek to change that: to guarantee that wines with a Texas label be made using entirely Texas-grown grapes.

The former bill is currently pending in committee and, with so little time left for the 85th Texas Legislature, might not even be considered on a wider scale. But the passionate feelings on either side — with winemakers straddling both ends of the debate — nonetheless provides insight into the state of the Texas wine industry and whether it’ll be ready in two years, the next legislative session, for a decisive labeling law.

For Brundrett, the problem isn’t that many Texas winemakers still make a lot of their wine with out-of-state grapes — it’s that they aren’t clear about it. That’s something fellow Hye winemaker Benjamin Calais, of Calais Winery and nearby distillery Hye Rum, has also noticed. Both of their wineries make wine with 100 percent Texas-grown grapes and say they have earned loyal customers because of it.

“We’re a minority right now,” Calais said. “A lot of Texas wineries are using 25 to 30 percent of California juice to blend with Texas juice, and when you tell people that, they are unhappy about it. It’s like the craft beer movement, when breweries get sold, and people decide they won’t support those breweries anymore. For wine drinkers, there’s an expectation when you’re visiting a small winery in the Hill Country that the person in front of you is being truthful, and it’s just not always the case.”

Brundrett also said that a stricter labeling law won’t disrupt anyone who still wants to produce wine with out-of-state grapes; they just won’t be able to label it as Texas wine anymore.

“We get a lot of hailstorms and freezes and other weather situations that can damage our grapes, so Texas wineries have the choice not to take the risk of using Texas grapes. We’re not trying to take that away,” Brundrett said. “All the bill does is respect the sense of place of Texas wine.”

But other winemakers — many of them the biggest producers of Texas wine — think more regulation on the industry would stunt the growth of it so early in its development.

Messina Hof, the largest and one of the oldest wineries in the state, makes approximately 60,000 cases of wine a year in comparison to William Chris Vineyards’ 25,000 cases and tries to get as many grapes as possible from Texas. That’s just not always possible, Messina Hof CEO Paul M. Bonarrigo said, citing a loss of 25 percent of the winery’s crop last year due to hail.

The son of the original founders, Paul V. and Merrill Bonarrigo, he is not in support of HB 1514 for reasons beyond the availability of Texas grapes. He sees other issues as more pressing to the Texas wine industry, including new herbicides that he fears are unintentionally killing whole vineyards in the Texas High Plains as they drift in the wind from nearby cotton fields. The Texas High Plains produce a significant number of grapes for wineries around the state, and Bonarrigo sees the herbicides as a real threat to Texas wine.

“Our industry is in a delicate position,” he said. “My concern is that if we focus our energy on something like (HB 1514), we’re going to lose support legislatively on things that are very important for us to survive.”

The Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, which represents winemakers like Messina Hof and William Chris Vineyards, ultimately opposed the bill as well and wrote a letter to the sponsoring legislator, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, about its decision made after “considerable discussion” about HB 1514.

“While we appreciate your interest in this issue, we feel that the regulations imposed by your bill would not benefit the industry or consumers at this time,” according to the letter signed by president Dusty Timmons. The association “has formed an internal committee to work on this issue and hopefully over time we will find a reasonable solution that will benefit everyone involved.”

Whether that solution will come in time for another proposed bill in the Texas Legislature in 2019 is still a big question. Brundrett, like other small winemakers who have worked hard to guarantee wines made only from Texas-grown grapes, is already confident the state is ready.

“Growing grapes in Texas is not easy. There are windstorms, hail and late freezes. A lot of uncontrollable variable. But there is so much technology and technique that has taken us out of the dark ages at the same time,” he said. “Now you’re seeing much more consistent crop levels. We’re growing an agriculture product with integrity, and we need this to take the industry to the next level.”

Inaugural Index Fest successfully mingled music, beer and art in Austin

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The very first Index Fest rocked by combining music, art and craft beer.

The first rays of the incoming summer sun were blisteringly hot at times, but the beer, at least, was good and cold at the debut of Index Fest this weekend.

Also coming to Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Dallas throughout this year, the festival is a slightly spruced-up version of the now-defunct Untapped Fest — offering games, art installations and a small roster of food vendors in addition to the usual focus on music and craft beer.

But make no mistake: Index Fest still kept the spotlight squarely on the latter two, with brewery booths scattered across the lawn and parking lot in front of the Austin American-Statesman and a large stage erected in one corner for live performances from Austin City Limits Music Fest veterans Local Natives of Los Angeles, as well as electronica duo Frenship, indie-rockers Grizfolk, local stage-spectacle Calliope Musicals and DJ Mark Markus.

The setup of the festival kept those there for the music partitioned, for the most part, from those drinking beer out of 2 oz. taster glasses. I can’t say how the music was — I was not an active listener as I made my way down the lines of brewery booths with friends — but I appreciated that sound levels from the stage never reached an overwhelming level.

Implementing electronic wristbands that kept track of how many pours each person had gotten of beer (tickets allowed for a certain number, though you could purchase more) was also smart and efficient.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Fredericksburg’s Altstadt Brewery launched only a couple of months ago, so Index Fest was likely many beer lovers’ introduction to its light, easy-drinking beers.

Here are some of the standout beers from the festival, many of which are available in larger quantities around town.

From Austin:

  • Pinthouse Pizza’s Zappy Squid IPA (which was exciting to try for the first time in part because I’d just published a story about the brewpub’s stellar IPA program)
  • Hops & Grain’s Pellets & Powder IPA
  • Independence Brewing’s Illustrated Man Dark Sour
  • North by Northwest’s Mr. Rogers Imperial Pale Lager

From Texas and around the country:

  • Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer Imperial Red Ale
  • Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion, a rotating hop series
  • Jolly Pumpkin’s No Ka Oi Wild Ale
  • BrainDead Brewing’s Idle Playthings Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Isla, the sister bar to Peche, has now closed in Austin’s Warehouse District

Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Isla, once home to Caribbean-style cocktails, is closing down.

Once a rum bar and restaurant serving up Caribbean-style food to patrons, Isla made the switch late last year to Peruvian cuisine and cocktails but couldn’t seem to find its groove. The sister spot to French-focused Peche announced this morning on social media that Isla has closed.

The announcement came through Chef Julio-Cesar Flórez, a Peruvian native who helped the restaurant redirect its culinary program to the flavors of South America.

“Isla closed,” he wrote in a Facebook post that was then re-posted on Isla’s Facebook and Instagram. “It was my pleasure and honor to bring Peruvian food of this quality to this city. I hope to do it again soon, it has always been my mission, and I know I won a lot of hearts during this short period.”

Owner Rob Pate, who opened the city’s first absinthe bar with Peche, took over the short-lived Pleasant Storage Room next door to Peche in late 2014, when the rum bar styled after a popular Cuban watering hole abruptly closed. He decided not to change the focus of Isla from its former incarnation, creating a menu of tropical drinks and food.

Isla became the place to go for almost exclusively tiki-style cocktails paired with island fare. It then transitioned to more of a Caribbean cantina until Flórez’ Peruvian influence. And for Pate, through all of his project’s changes, Isla remained a special place because of the people who worked there to make it what it needed to be.

“It is never an easy thing to close something that so many people have put a great deal of effort into,” he said in an emailed statement. “We were blessed at Isla to have a great core of employees, and I think that is what hurts the most. We will take a couple of weeks to figure out our next step and go from there.”

Isla’s last day was Sunday, when it hosted a final brunch.

The Austin Winery celebrates move to South Austin with grand opening party

Contributed by the Austin Winery. The Austin Winery’s new location is finally open and will celebrate with an all-day party this weekend.

The Austin Winery will continue to be an urban destination with its move south to the mixed-use industrial complex called the Yard, where St. Elmo Brewing, Spokesman Coffee and others like a forthcoming whiskey distillery are also situated.

Founded by three young entrepreneurs — CEO Ross McLauchlan, VP and winemaker Cooper Anderson, and chief of operations Matthew Smith — the winery is officially open in its new location and wants to celebrate with you tomorrow at a grand opening party.

There, the small food menu with light bites like meats and cheeses is debuting for the first time, as well as new releases of some of the winery’s staple wines: Euphoria, Work Horse, Quarter Horse and Rosé. Bottles will be 15 percent off all day.

McLauchlan is excited to expose more locals to the Austin Winery with a more central location and has made sure that visitors have plenty to explore. The Austin Winery has a barrel room, a tasting room, a mezzanine and even an on-site kitchen that will allow the winery to play host to guest chefs and supper clubs.

“There will be much more room, so it’ll be nice to have an expanded presence and options for people to relax, engage and enjoy the space,” he said last year, when the winery was still in the process of constructing the new facility. “Wine is great on its own, but it’s always better when paired with other things, whether that’s food, music or shopping.”

The bigger space has big benefits in other ways, too: being able to produce up to 20,000 cases per year of wine.

Tomorrow’s celebration will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Regular tasting room hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 12 to 7 p.m. Sundays, during which there will often be live music, DJ sets, food trucks on weekends, trivia nights and trunk shows. The Austin Winery also has plans for a set of wine classes for both novices and professionals.

The Austin Winery is located at 440A E. St. Elmo Rd. For more information, visit theaustinwinery.com.