‘Whiplashed’: Texas Breweries Navigate Shifting Rules As Many Face Permanent Closure

A recent survey found that two-thirds of Texas brewers don’t expect to be in business in 2021.

By Laura RiceJuly 27, 2020 12:10 pm, ,

Craft breweries in Texas that also operate restaurants were relieved after Gov. Greg Abbott announced over the weekend that they would be allowed to reopen. But breweries, winemakers and distilleries that don’t serve food must stay closed, and some owners have asked Abbott to change the rules so they, too, can reopen.

Abbott ordered bars to shut down in late June in an attempt to slow the rising number of coronavirus cases. But operators of breweries, brewpubs, distilleries and wineries say their businesses are quite different from bars.

Brock Wagner is founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston. He told Texas Standard’s Joy Díaz that the confusion over state rules that apply to beer gardens like the one Saint Arnold operates is a result of changing interpretations of the “51% rule.” The rule requires establishments that receive more than 51% of their revenue from the sale of alcohol to remain closed to on-premise consumption. Under the latest interpretation, brewpubs and beer gardens are allowed to open

“Breweries have really gotten whiplashed [by] government orders that have come down,” Wagner said.

He also said having an outdoor patio affected the way brewers could serve customers. Earlier orders allowed customers to drink beer they had purchased at a brewery on a patio there. Now, TABC took away that option. 

“We got a victory on Friday, but unfortunately, it’s a very narrow victory that probably only helps about four or five breweries in the state,” he said. “For us it’s a huge deal, and it means 75 people’s jobs.”

A survey by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild shows 1 in 3 brewers across the state fear they’ll have to close permanently in the next few months. Two-thirds don’t think they’ll make it to 2021.

Wagner says he’s especially concerned about smaller operations.

“A lot of the newer places, they just operate taprooms,” he said. “So the vast majority of their sales come from people coming to visit the brewery, having a couple pints.”

Taprooms aren’t allowed to remain open under COVID-19 closure orders.

“These people are struggling. We’ve lost a couple already,” Wagner said of small brewers who have had to close their taprooms.

He said small brewers enter the business because they love what they do.

“These are businesses that are about passion,” Wagner said. “People are not going into these businesses with dreams of getting rich; it’s because they love brewing beer, selling beer, talking to people about beer.”

Wagner said craft brewers are asking that they be allowed to ship beer and to deliver it to residences.

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.

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