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Texas Craft Brewers Ready to Raise Their Mugs

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The Texas craft beer industry raised their mugs last month when the Texas House of Representatives approved bills that would allow the independent craft brewers of Texas more freedom to distribute their products. The new rules also give consumers better access of Texas craft beer from local brewers.

"We tried this Big Bend beer at a lot of the bars we went to and we really like it. We really wanted to get a mixed six-pack all their beers for our fathers for Father’s day," said Brenda Kissko.

Brenda Kissko of Lubbock was on a recent visit to the Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine. While she couldn’t buy beer for her dad that day, she’s right to be hopeful. Changes are brewing for the Texas Craft beer industry….

In late May, the Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Senate Bills 515-518 and 639, filed by Senator Kevin Eltife and…appropriately named…Senator John Carona. This significant shift in beer laws could change the marketplace for the craft brewing industry in Texas. The only action pending for the outcome of these bills is a signature, pass, or veto from Governor Rick Perry (UPDATE: Governor Perry approved these bills on Friday, June 14).

These bills would allow independent craft brewers to sell their beer to the consumers with some stipulations.

Jeff Young the co-owner of Black Star Co-Op Pub in Austin said if someone wanted a craft beer in the past, they would have to go to a brewery or brew pub and could only drink that beer there. That would be a long trip for many West Texans.

"Now, it would allow us to produce more beer, distribute it around town, and even around the state at some point. It would give us a more robust model allowing us to have multiple avenues of revenue and also give our consumers more options to purchase our beers," said Young.

Eric Sandler is the editor for the restaurant blog Eater and has been closely following the these bills.

"Breweries will be able to have taprooms where they can actually sell beer to consumers for consumption at the brewery, which makes these breweries a tourist destination and means that there could be all kinds of fun beer nerd events at breweries they were not able to have before because they were not economically viable," said Sandler.

According to an economic study commissioned by Scott Metzger, Professor of Economics at University of Texas-San Antonio, the Texas craft beer industry could create as many as 52,000 jobs, and potentially generate $5.6 billion annually by 2020.

Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild credits the economic impact study as a vital component in gaining the House’s approval of these bills, especially considering how many people might be needed to the fill demand.

"Craft beer is labor intensive, less automated than larger breweries tend to be. Therefore, there are more jobs involved," said Vallonrat.

Rick Donley is President of the Beer Alliance of Texas. He believes this legislation could potentially lure business from other states.

"It sends a loud message to the entire country that Texas is a friendly business atmosphere for craft brewers. And hopefully it stimulates other investment in those craft breweries whether they’re existing craft breweries or new businesses that come online based upon a better atmosphere to do business in Texas," said Donley.

But it may not go far enough yet…

Brew master Steve Anderson of Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine said the passing of Senate bills 515-518 would be a step in the right direction for the industry to expand overall but he is waiting for legislation to allow breweries to sell to consumers for off-site consumption. He said about 90 percent of consumers that come into the brewery are usually looking to purchase the beer directly from him, to take home—which is still illegal.

"We got to eventually convince everybody that it is beneficial to the industry as a whole and not detrimental by any means to anybody for allowing a brewery to be able to sell beer for off-site consumption at the brewery. If a person were to come to the brewery, we can sell them a six-pack and it doesn't hurt anyone," said Anderson.

Open the Taps, a grassroots organization that represents the consumer voice for the craft beer movement in Texas has been involved in the legislative process. Spokesperson Leslie Sprague said they are celebrating the progress made for the craft beer industry. However, in the next legislative session they still want to push for sales that would allow consumers to purchase beer directly from breweries to take home.