NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Frustrated Texas craft brewery owners pushed back Thursday against a state agency clarification they described as mind boggling, and a state government they say is stonewalling them.
The new guidance from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission cut off an apparent, thin lifeline for breweries, struggling to survive during a second pandemic shutdown.
The TABC in turn explained it was only making it clear to breweries that Governor Greg Abbot’s executive order banning on premise customers was still in effect.
The reaction followed a few days where some breweries had opened their taps again.
The TABC reminded them of a process where they could modify the area their alcohol license covered.
Some breweries, bars, distilleries and wineries looked at that as an opening to tell customers they were free to consume purchases, in the newly un-regulated areas of the property.
Oak Highlands Brewery in Dallas took advantage, spacing out tables, mandating masks, and putting a sign on the front door informing customers that the change allowed them to operate. They found out in the middle of a trivia event Wednesday night, that TABC clarified none of that mattered.
“Everything that restaurants are doing, we did,” said owner Brad Mall. “There’s no difference. But you add a side of French fries now, and all of a sudden, COVID doesn’t spread.”
Mall acknowledged Thursday his business is among the two in three craft breweries that may not survive until the end of the year, according to a survey from the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
He said the company has lost more than $70,000 from cancelled events. Breweries don’t have the option to direct ship to customers either, due to state laws.
State data shows tax revenue from alcoholic beverage sales across the state was down nearly 50-percent in June over last year, the fourth straight month of decline.
“It was such an incredible turn of events,” said Adam DeBower of Austin Beerworks, and a board director of the Brewers Guild. “An unbelievable turn of events really, where they told us we could do this thing, now they’re telling us they can’t.”
DeBower said he wondered how thousands of people at political rallies, theme parks, and auto-racing events were acceptable, when a few people at a brewery were not.
The situation was a turnaround from a year ago, when Governor Abbott was praised for signing a bill allowing breweries to sell beer to go, directly from their establishments.
“The governor signed the bill here, in my taproom, at my brewery, not 50 feet away from where I’m sitting right now, and took advantage of that incredible opportunity for PR,” he said. “And now here we are asking for a lifeline, and getting nothing.”
In an interview with CBS 11 Wednesday, Gov. Abbott said bars still need to find a way to safely operate. That has been another point of contention for owners, who point out state laws do not classify their businesses as bars.
“We can’t sell wine. We can’t sell mixed beverages. We can’t sell alcohol until 2 o’clock in the morning like bars can,” Mall said.
However the Governor’s executive order puts all of the alcoholic beverage businesses into the same group.
Mall said the most consistent action state leaders could take at this point would be an equal application of the emergency orders.
“If all business need to be closed down, close em all. If you’re going to allow one business to operate under the same set of guidelines as we can, we oughta be able to do that.”