OTT Response to Beer Lobby on Public Radio

Just want to clarify a few points in our post. It isn’t clear to all who we are mentioning and their allegiances. Sometimes we forget how in the weeds we are with beer laws!

Mr. Vallhonrat, mentioned below, is the executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. He was mentioned only to set the stage for the radio segment that aired today.  The one where the consumers weren’t heard from. We have and will continue to work hard with our allies in the Guild.

Mr. Donley is with the Beer Alliance of Texas, a major beer distributor lobby.

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Open The Taps appreciates being contacted by Houston Public Media in the lead up to today’s segment on the state of craft beer laws in Texas. We are disappointed that the consumer voice was not included in the report and discussion – but nevertheless we wanted to offer some thoughts after listening to the statement from the Beer Alliance of Texas and the conversation with Mr. Vallhonrat.

First, Mr. Donly simply has his facts wrong about the lead-up to 2013. The Beer Alliance of Texas was involved in these meetings, but certainly did not ‘sponsor’ them — Senator Leticia Van de Putte was the driving force behind the conversations ahead of the 2013 session, which were hosted by the TABC at their offices in Austin. Although industry stakeholders were indeed included, Open The Taps and the consumers had to fight for a seat at the table, and were systematically excluded from many of the meetings at the urging of groups like Beer Alliance.

In addition, The Beer Alliance’s characterization of the changes in 2013 being something they ‘allowed to happen’ borders on ludicrous. Senators Eltife and Carona and Rep. Wayne Smith were the architects of the 2013 compromise that resulted in the package of bills including SB 639. In addition, Open The Taps and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild played large roles in helping to advocate and advance the benefits of those same bills. The very idea that the distributors feel they have the power to ‘allow’ or ‘deny’ things to happen in Austin IS THE PROBLEM – for too long they have been the only voice heard in Austin, and have a misguided sense that they make the rules, they are the gatekeepers, and that progress only comes from back room deals held outside of the public eye. This attitude is constraining the growth of beer culture in Texas.

The conversation about direct shipping was particularly telling. Mr. Donly offered up only anecdotal evidence about how shipping beer is a ‘bad’ thing. If someone wants to order/purchase a beer by mail, that should be a consumer choice – not limited or dictated by some middleman’s errant belief that all beer spoils if it isn’t in the back of a distributor trailer.

The bottom line is that distributors will offer up any strawman argument to prevent a single drop of beer that otherwise would have hitched a ride on one of their trucks to reach consumers any other way. Sadly, because they have controlled the conversation in Austin for so long, many legislators look to them first for input on any changes to craft beer laws. That’s slowly changing, but it’s still the case, and it’s why facilitating change in Austin is so hard, and why Open The Taps is working so hard to make the consumer voice heard.

Open The Taps does agree with Mr. Donly on one key point – everyone needs to work together to make progress. Sadly, we do not feel the distributors are interested in progress, only in maintaining the status quo that leaves the consumer – the person that pays for all this beer and enriches the industry as a result – on the sidelines. An industry that ignores its customers does so at its own peril.