When the production line is running at capacity inside St. Arnold Brewing Company, more than a hundred bottles a minute are filled and capped. On this day, the line was cranking out case after case of Oktoberfest.
“And you can see the foam coming out of the bottle. And we actually crown the beer, put the cap on, as the foam is coming out, because the foam will push out any residual air that might be in that bottle.”
That’s Brock Wagner, the founder and owner of St. Arnold, the oldest and largest craft brewery in Houston. Every year, about 100,000 visitors tour the facility just north of downtown. Those tours include free samples.
But one thing visitors couldn’t do, up until very recently, was buy beer to drink on the premises. Wagner says it took him ten years working on lawmakers to get them to approve what, in his mind, was a logical change.
“And especially in Texas, where everybody talks about free markets and getting government out of the way of business. That was one of the most frustrating things — going in and being told by legislators that, ‘yes, this is exactly what we stand for. But, no, we’re not going to vote for your bill.'”
That was until two months ago, when lawmakers approved, and Gov. Perry signed, a bill that allows craft breweries to sell individual servings of beer. Wagner says this means visitors will be able to taste more varieties.
“Now some of those really special beers, the Bishops Barrels, the Divine Reserves, a special cask we only maybe made one or two of — we can serve that here at the brewery, because we can charge for it. Otherwise, it didn’t make sense. We couldn’t give away that beer.”
Another change in the law allows smaller craft breweries more flexibility in how they get their beer to your favorite bar or grocery store.
“My name is Aaron Corsi. I’m one of the co-founders of 8th Wonder Brewery, and the brew master here”
His brewery, east of downtown, just started production in February. Corsi says the new law will allow him to open a tasting room, and sell more varieties to visitors. Also, smaller breweries like his can now sell directly to retailers without paying a distributor.
“So what that actually allows us to do is pass on that savings to the consumer. So we would still sell the beer to the bar or restaurant the same price we would sell it to the distributor. We can take a little bit of that, but we normally pass on that savings.”
One thing that craft brewers wanted, but were unable to get in this legislative session, was permission to sell beer for visitors to take home. That’s a change that will have to wait for at least another two years.