Thanks to recently issued guidance from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), several Texas breweries are now able to reopen their taprooms for on-site drinking. The pivot comes just several days after breweries were initially told that they weren’t allowed to reopen their patios.
Texas breweries have had it rough over the past several months, beginning with having to close up taprooms, alongside other dine-in businesses in the rest of the state, in March. In May, breweries were able to reopen taprooms and patios so that customers could drink on the premises, but the following month, these alcohol-centered businesses — along with all other bars, defined as places that made 51 percent of their sales through alcohol — had to close again because of another statewide executive order in response to the surge of novel coronavirus cases. (All the while, breweries were able to sell to-go beers, but those sales aren’t enough to keep the businesses viable.)
Two weeks ago, TABC released guidance regarding a new temporary license modification: It allowed businesses to remove some parts of their properties from their alcohol permits as of Friday, July 17. Breweries understood this new rule to mean that customers would be able to purchase to-go beers and then drink and pour the beverages for themselves on the patios and in the beer gardens, without any sort of table service, “as though they were tailgating,” explained Austin Beerworks co-owner and co-founder Adam DeBower. In response, Austin Beerworks and others immediately worked on modifying their permits to allow for reopening and made announcements that people were able to drink on their grounds again.
Then, five days later, on July 21, it turned out the provision didn’t apply to alcohol-based businesses, like bars and breweries, that had been ordered closed by the governor. “TABC reversed course and basically said, ‘psych, you can’t do that,’” shared DeBower.
Then, on Friday, July 24, TABC issued a different ruling regarding how the 51 percent designation is determined, meaning what qualifies a business as a restaurant (which can open for dine-in service) versus a bar (which can’t). According to TABC’s website:
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has determined that the 51 percent calculation of gross receipts should only include the sale of alcohol for on-premise consumption. Therefore, the calculation should exclude to-go, retail, and wholesale sales of alcoholic beverages.
This means that breweries — which often make their sales through wholesale and retail avenues — could potentially be considered restaurants. This applies to Austin Beerworks, which is also reopening its food truck, Cantina, in order to make this work. “Not all breweries can qualify to operate as a restaurant,” said DeBower, “and food sales will figure significantly in the overall revenue of our business looking forward.”
Now, Austin Beerworks is reopening for dine- and drink-in services starting today, Wednesday, July 29, with daily hours of noon to 8 p.m. DeBower noted that the brewery could’ve reopened its indoor taproom space under that designation, as well, but “we are not comfortable accepting the risks associated with indoor service for our staff or our guests at this time.”
Other Austin breweries and brewpubs are planning on reopening under this new allowance, including Oddwood Ales, 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, and Hopsquad. “I am grateful that my business has found a way to work within this allowance,” DeBower continued. “But the reality is that our industry needs a real and permanent solution that doesn’t require its members to completely reinvent their business models.”
The Texas Craft Brewers Guild shared last week that many breweries in the state believe they’ll have to close down if they’re not able to expand their services, or if they don’t receive meaningful government support.