Jester King Craft Brewery

Stop the Embargo: Texas Needs More Artisan Beer

From the Brewer’s Brain section of the Summer 2011 Austin Beer Guide:

There are a few beers, from passionate, artisan brewers around the world, that have invigorated my passion for the product and truly inspired me on both a personal and a professional level. In spite of the distant location of many of these brewers, and the ludicrously small quantities of beer that some of them produce, it’s actually possible to find a surprising number of these in the United States, thanks to the efforts of a handful of boutique importers. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to find them in Texas, and never will be barring a substantive change to the state beverage code.

Whereas a single permit allows a wine and spirit importer to ship all of their wares into Texas, beer importers aren’t even recognized by the state. Instead, foreign breweries themselves are required to obtain up to three different licenses, spending anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 every two years, and in many cases, print special labels, so as to comply with the state’s rather unique labeling laws. For a brewery that’s only planning on sending a few hundred or maybe even a few dozen cases into the state, or for one that just wants to do a special, one time shipment for a festival or special event, this all makes for an obvious non-starter. Almost as astounding, though, as the State’s apparent efforts to protect its citizens from the perils of imported, hand-crafted beer, is the fact that many of our fellow Texas brewers seem rather reluctant to see this change.

These brewers feel that out of state breweries already have it much easier than we do; and that it isn’t in our best interest to help them gain an even greater advantage. It’s both true and grossly unfair that a brewpub just across the state line could obtain a license to distribute its beer in Texas, whereas a Texas brewpub could not. We, as a production brewery, also have a huge disadvantage in not being able to sell our products directly to consumers, in the same way that Texas wineries and brewers in other states are allowed to do. However, prohibiting small, out of state brewers from entering the market by imposing exorbitant, untenable fees doesn’t “level the playing field”. It simply limits the choices that are available to Texas consumers, and this is not something that we, at Jester King, feel is ultimately good for the future of craft brewing either inside or outside the state.

While protectionist laws may give Texas brewers somewhat of a privileged position in the market, they also stifle the growth of the craft beer category as a whole. The lack of authentic farmhouse ale in Texas may give us an opportunity to offer Texas consumers something that they couldn’t otherwise find, but it also denies these same consumers the chance to experience first hand the products that changed our lives and made us want to open a brewery in the first place. We’re not trying to brew local substitute for De La Senne, Jolly Pumpkin, or Cantillon; we’re trying to brew original, characterful beers that we’re hoping will someday be good enough to stand side by side with those brands and make Texas proud. Tasting the beers that helped to shape our artistic vision would only help our customers to develop a fuller, more complex understanding of what it is that we’re trying to do. At the end of the day, we want you to buy our beers because they’re good, not because the State is denying you access to the ones you really want, and for that reason, we feel that the current, protectionist system needs to end.