It’s been three years since Dorćol Distilling & Brewing Company started brewing their HighWheel brand of beer. And for three years, everytime patrons in their taproom ask to buy a six-pack or fill a growler to take home, they’ve heard the same answer:
That’s because of Texas laws — which will change on Sunday.
"I cannot tell you how many times we have explained that and it’s not an easy explanation," said Randy Ward, Dorćol co-owner and head of beer operations. “We say we can’t and then they want to know why, and then there’s this long explanation about the differences in the legislative licensing process. Yeah, it will be nice to not have to say that again.”
For many, a cold beer sounds pretty good right now, as air conditioners across Texas strain through the summer heat. A law change this weekend will make it a little easier to take home your favorite craft brew.
While someone can purchase beer-to-go from a brewpub, those have 10,000 barrel production limit. Texas breweries are considered manufacturers and must go through a distributor to sell to-go.
Many beer makers around San Antonio have opted for the brew-pub model. Some like Alamo Beer haven’t because they first intended to be a production model. Dorćol is ineligible since they also distill rakia, a serbian spirit. Distillers are inherently considered manufacturers.
Texas is the only state in the country where breweries can’t sell beer-to-go, said Ward.
But that changes Sunday, Sept. 1.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law earlier this year.
As you hear in this political action committee video — aside from the tasty guitar licks— Abbott cites the incredible growth in the craft beer industry as one reason to change the law. The other reason is, of course, freedom. According to the Brewers Association, Texas’ 283 breweries puts about $4.5 billion a year into the state’s economy.
For almost 15 years, craft brewers have been fighting to reform the rules around breweries.
“Everytime the beer-to-go law would come up, it always seemed like a shoe in and then there would be some eleventh hour trick, and everyone would have plausible deniability,” said Travis Poling, author of San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint.
Nothing was going to happen without the powerful distributors lobby, he said. Distributors have often been pointed to in the death of previous reform efforts.
"Anything that happens in the legislature is about money," said Ward.
After fighting for more than a decade, craft brewers succeeded because they got organized and raised money through CRAFTPAC, its political action committee.
But even with that money, Ward was still amazed they got it done.
“Even to the last minute, I was surprised,” he said.
This session, reform bills failed to get out of a house committee. Despite not getting a hearing, the language was tacked on as an amendment to funding for the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission.
"I think it’s just a matter of telling your story, putting a face to it," said T.J. Miller, co-founder and operations manager at Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling.
“We spent a lot of time with the [Texas Craft Brewers] guild. A lot of guys face to face with representatives in Austin talking about how this will impact us. I think It just makes it more real”
Standing on a 20-foot-high platform, Miller opened a steel tank and peered inside. Water poured down in streams from the top of the tank.
“This is the san Antonio Lager, so the grains have been put in and mashed and right now we’re sparging it, so we’re rinsing all the sugar off the grains," he said.
The San Antono Lager is Ranger Creek's most popular beer, and because of all the work of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and the CRAFTPAC and Miller and others they are going to be able to sell packaged cases and growlers just a few feet away from where he stands now.
He said he is excited to finally be able to do that, and they even expect to build a beer garden. Excited despite the limited income boost they can gain from the one case, per person, per day limitations in the new regulations.
"I mean it’s gonna drive right down to the bottom line,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t say it is going to materially change a lot of different things, but I think it is going to be a net benefit all around."
Ward with Dorćol agrees:
"It's not going to be a gamechanger financially for us but hopefully its gonna mean a huge brand recognition.”
The branding piece of having people walk away with product under their arm is huge, he said.
Especially since, unlike Ranger Creek, Dorćol’s HighWheel is only sold to restaurants and bars.
But, expecting the law change, they roll out a canned version of their best seller HighWheel’s Betty, a kolsch, next week.
“For the very, very first time ever you’ll be able to drink Betty out of a can,“ said Ward.
All thanks to new rules going into effect just in time for Labor Day.
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.