There’s a new bill that would allow ready-to-drink cocktails and seltzers made with distilled spirits, or “spirit coolers,” to be sold in grocery and convenience stores in Texas.
The aim of the bill is to boost sales for Texas businesses hopefully, and to dilute confusion over what can and cannot be purchased as the industry for these types of beverages continues to boom. Texas Rep. Justin Holland introduced a version of the bill in the Texas House earlier in February, followed by Texas Sen. Kelly Hancock in the Texas Senate that same month.
Currently, beer, wine, and malt liquor that have an alcohol content of 17 percent and below by volume are permitted for sale in grocery and convenience stores. If passed, the bill would allow spirit coolers that also have an alcohol content 17 percent by volume and below to be sold in those same stores. Things like White Claw or Texas’s Lone River Ranch Water are malt liquors (no matter how great the marketing is to steer you away from the fact), which is why you can pick them up at your local H-E-B or 7-Eleven. White Claw does have a newly released line of spirit coolers made with vodka, which you’ll have to go to the liquor store in order to buy.
For years, the standard in Texas law has been that liquor sales at grocery and liquor stores are prohibited. It is the only state in the country that does not allow privately traded corporations to obtain a liquor license, which is one reason people can’t purchase booze at local Targets and the such. Walmart went as far as suing Texas, but in 2020, the case was rejected by the United States Supreme Court. Weird for a state that adores the free market and business interests to hold such inflexible liquor laws when the industry is a gold mine. According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Lone Star State made $124,387,000 from liquor sale taxes in 2022.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a recent survey showed that 86 percent of respondents agreed that ready-to-drink cocktails should be sold in the same locations where beer and wine are available. “As industries innovate and new products become staples in the marketplace, it only makes sense for us to take a look at ways government can reduce regulatory red tape,” says Sen. Hancock in the press release.
“It makes no sense that consumers can come into our stores and pick up malt-based seltzers but can’t do the same with their favorite spirits-based canned cocktails,” says Paul Hardin, the president and CEO of Texas Food & Fuel Association. “This is confusing to consumers and unnecessarily restricts our sales. Allowing these small businesses to sell spirits [ready-to-drinks] that have the same alcohol content as beer and wine products we already sell, will support the growth of tens of thousands of businesses across our state. It’s time to pass this commonsense measure in support of Texas consumers and local businesses.”
Also in the current Texas Legislature session is a bill looking to allow state breweries to ship and deliver beers. In 2019, Texas legalized beer-to-go sales by breweries. In 2021, the state permanently legalized to-go cocktail sales by restaurants and bars.
Update: March 3, 2023, 11:12 a.m.: This article was updated to clarify that beer, wine, and malt liquor with an alcohol content of 17 percent and below, not just below 17 percent, is legal for sale.