Glen Harrod, one of the former owners of Grapevine Craft Brewery, said he had to sell due to increasing competition for shelf space in stores. What would have made a difference, he said, was the ability to sell packaged beer to-go. But current state laws make that illegal.
“That would have been the magic ingredient,” Harrod said.
Right now customers can only purchase glasses of beer to drink in the brewery’s taproom. If they want to take the beer to-go in packages, they have to go to a
retail store. According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Texas is the only state with this rule.
“We get calls for to-go beers all the time,” Hop & Sting Brewing Co. owner Jon Powell said. “We have to tell them no.”
A pair of bills making their way through the state Legislature may help.
In February, beer brewers and distributors signed an agreement that proposed Texans be allowed to buy up to two cases of beer per person, per day from places where beer is brewed.
This comes as an amendment to Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 672, which proposed craft breweries be allowed the same off-premises selling rules wineries and distilleries follow.
“Had that been in place a year ago, the Grapevine Craft Brewery would most likely still be operating as Grapevine Craft Brewery,” Harrod said.
Local effect on the industry
There are dozens of craft breweries and brewpubs in North Texas. What separates the two categories is that brewpubs can sell packaged beer to-go but are restricted to making fewer barrels of beer a year. Breweries can make more barrels a year, with a fraction of that sold in glasses to drink on-site. But customers cannot take the packaged beer home from the brewery.
This distinction sparked Hop & Sting’s interest in becoming a brewpub. This did not happen, Powell said, because the brewery was not able to meet the city’s standards for a brewpub.
A Grapevine city ordinance says a brewpub must make at least 51 percent of its earnings from food sales. But that was something that was never in the Grapevine brewery’s model.
“It’s a business that we don’t know anything about,” Hop & Sting co-owner Brian Burton said.
If to-go sales are legal, Burton said Hop & Sting could hire more people and add to the economy.
Tahwahkaro Distilling Co. recently began selling its liquor in the Grapevine area, but it also must work through a distributor to get into stores. Brothers and owners Jason and Justin Jackson said under current laws they should be able to sell their liquor to-go. But because Grapevine voters denied a proposition for the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption, TABC rules prohibit the brothers from doing this—the liquor has to be sold in a store outside of Grapevine.
They said unless things change, they will probably move out of Grapevine.
“It’s an experiential thing,” Justin Jackson said. “Customers ... tour the facility, they look at the equipment, they look at the passion … that we put in to make great whiskey. And they walk away without a bottle and then have to go 20 minutes away [to a store].”
He said this method hurts the city sales tax revenue and prevents the distillery from allowing customers to leave with a piece of the company.
Jason Jackson said if local breweries are allowed to sell beer to-go, it could give the distillery a stronger position to sell liquor to-go. He advocated government supporting the local businesses.
“There needs to be the support of the smaller guys,” he said.
Selling packaged beer to-go gives Southlake’s Malai Kitchen an advantage, owner Braden Wages said. Because he operates as a brewpub, Wages is allowed to sell the restaurant’s beer to-go. He said this rule helps make his product better.
“The beer we are serving has always been brewed within a week or two tops,” Wages said. “It didn’t get made, … go through distributors, and sit in a grocery store. Freshness is really shockingly very important to beer.”
The agreement attached to the proposed legislation between beer brewers and distributors lays down some rules for the to-go sales of beer. It limits how much beer can be made each year as well as how much beer Texans can take home with them. Alcohol content also has to be clearly marked on the labels.
Beer makers would also be required to report their beer to-go sales each month to the TABC.
The proposed legislation would need to pass in the House and Senate and be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott before it becomes law.
But not everyone agrees with these proposed changes. The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a lobby group that represent the interests of distributors, is not part of the agreement. The group said it stands by a former agreement signed with brewers that did not include to-go sales, according to Community Impact Newspaper’s reporting partner The Texas Tribune.
The Beer Alliance of Texas has also shown concern for beer to-go sales, saying a change in the law could harm businesses such as convenience stores, grocery stores and bars.
But Randy Johnson, president of Bear Creek Spirits and Wine in Colleyville, said he would consider this rule change a benefit not only to breweries but also to retailers.
“It doesn’t hurt, and it actually promotes more economic growth in the area,” he said.
The industry moving forward
Powell said if the bills become law, there would be a better climate for more breweries to open in the area and succeed. This was something officials said would benefit the city.
“Craft breweries have the potential to attract visitors, and it is possible that off-premise retail sales may draw additional visitors to the breweries,” P. W. McCallum, Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, said in a statement.
City officials said if the bills pass the city would have to consider a conditional-use permit for the brewery.
Powell said he is pleased with what he has seen so far of the legal amendment. He said changing the law allows the smaller beer makers a better chance to compete and support the local community.
“If the state doesn’t change their laws, there is always a chance that the city will change their laws, but we would really like to see the state come into the 21st century,” he said.
Additional reporting by Community Impact Newspaper editor Sherelle Black