Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said he has written a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott calling for lenience in a recent order shutting down bars, particularly for establishments he said are important to farming business in the state.

Abbott's June 26 executive order called for the closing of all businesses across the state that make at least 51% of their revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages. In Miller's letter to Abbott, sent in early July, he asked the governor to allow winery tasting rooms, distillery tasting rooms, and brewery and brewpub taprooms to reopen immediately.

To create their products, brewers and distillers need a variety of ingredients—including barley, wheat, corn and rice—which they often rely on local farms to obtain, Miller said.

“When breweries and distilleries suffer, we are losing more than just Texas products,” Miller wrote. “Beyond the impact on agriculture, closure of tasting rooms and taprooms will have a damaging downstream effect on glass manufacturers, trucking and marketing and advertising sectors among other jobs supported by this industry.”

Miller drew a distinction between tasting rooms and bars, arguing the latter present a higher risk when it comes to spreading COVID-19.

“Anyone that’s been to a tasting room knows they’re not the same as a bar,” Miller said. “Shutting them down does little to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it does ensure that Texas distilleries and craft beer industries may never recover.”

Miller issued an initial statement July 2 calling on Abbott only to reopen winery tasting rooms. He issued a second statement the next day adding distillery tasting rooms and brewery and brewpub taprooms.

In April, a little less than one month after bars and taprooms were closed or the first time, the Texas Whiskey Association and the Texas Distilled Spirits Association wrote a joint letter of their own to Abbott, estimating that sales were down about 80% for distilleries. In a July 3 statement, Spencer Whelan, executive director of the Texas Whiskey Association, backed Miller's letter, writing that the industry needs more contactless direct sales opportunities to survive the pandemic.

Our continued production of distilled products is a lifeline to our grain and seed partners who produce the raw materials from which most of our award winning spirits are made," he said in the statement. "Our contribution to the Texas economy can no longer be overlooked."

Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, said his organization also provided language to Abbott that would allow taprooms for breweries, brewpubs, wineries, and distilleries to continue to operate at 50% capacity and use outdoor seating space. The guild's membership consists of more than 250 breweries across the state.

Vallhonrat drew a similar distinction between bars and taprooms, calling for a "more refined solution."

"Craft breweries are not bars, but, as written, the majority of taprooms fall under the order and will therefore have to temporarily cease operating, once again leaving beer-to-go sales as a critical revenue stream," he said in a June 26 email.

Community Impact Newspaper has reached out to Abbott's office for comment.