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After touring 50 craft breweries across Texas, Stephen Oliver of OPA Design Studio says the market is about to be shaken-up by new beer-to-go law

AUSTIN, TX — June 17th, 2019 — Can you imagine if it was illegal for your favorite restaurant to let patrons order food to-go?


That is essentially the situation many of the approximately 275 craft beer breweries in Texas have faced for years. While patrons can enjoy beer in taprooms and beer gardens, no bottles can be sold to take home.


But that changed when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a massive, 325-page bill filled with changes to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It included an amendment which will allow craft brewers to sell beer for consumption “off-premises.”


Until now, Texas had maintained two categories of brewery classifications: Manufacturer and Brewpub. These two designations come with differing rules to follow based upon size, distribution, and also the ability to sell someone a six pack or bottle of their new favorite IPA or Stout. While a Brewpub license holder could sell you the six pack, a Manufacturer could not.


With the Governor’s recent signature, Texas ceases to be the only state in the country where buying beer to go from a craft brewery is illegal, effective September 1, 2019. Both the Breweries and the public will benefit from this long overdue change.


What will the new law mean for Texas craft breweries?


Stephen Oliver leads OPA Design Studio, an Austin-based architecture and design firm specializing in breweries and distilleries. He says many craft breweries have been planning changes to take advantage of opportunities that are presented by the new law.


Oliver of OPA on Beer to Go Law


“Beer to Go certainly provides an opportunity for long-range stability for craft breweries with respect to increased viability of the tap room,” says Oliver. “Now, effectively all Texas craft breweries can count on retail sales as part of the Tap Room revenue up to 5000 BBL’s a year. Very few breweries are anywhere near that with respect to on site consumption. Adding To-Go sales makes a successful Tap Room even more valuable.”


Back in March, Oliver embarked on a Texas Brewery Road Trip and drove across Texas in an RV to visit 50 breweries and brewpubs in just ten days. Along the way, he gained a better understanding of their needs, hopes, aspirations, challenges and goals. As part of the tour experience, he saw first-hand the strict limitations the law placed upon breweries. Limited release small batch beers could only be consumed at the brewery. For the average brewery tourist who might want to take a new favorite beer home, lost sales for the Tap Room were clearly evident. 


“Today, a lot of brewers have ‘tap room only’ beers that are different from what they sell at stores. So, if you’re visiting a brewery with friends in Austin, Houston or Dallas, you can’t take your new favorite beer you just discovered at the brewery home with you. The new beer law will resolve this problem. You will be able to leave with a couple of crowlers of your new favorite beer that’s only served in the tap room,” says Oliver.


He says beer lovers in Texas will enjoy the experience of discovering new beers and breweries even more when they can take it to-go.


While Oliver is optimistic about how craft breweries will gain from the change in the law, he also urges caution.


“The craft industry is undergoing shifts as the rapid growth of the last 5 years has slowed. With increased competition and slower sales, the Tap Room experience should be carefully thought-thru and well designed. The consumer has options and wants variety, comfort, new beers to try, something unique or differentiating from the other local choices. They want memorable experiences to share. This goes beyond simply adding new retail coolers and beer garden tables to create and maintain brand loyalty.” says Oliver.


According to Oliver, the new law could help forge deeper bonds between consumers and breweries.


Oliver of OPA on Beer to Go Law


About Stephen Oliver, Principal of OPA Design Studio

After designing his first brewery in 2012, Stephen Oliver has been a part of site selection, planning, design and construction of over two dozen facilities in Austin and beyond, including Live Oak Brewery, Still Austin Whiskey, Pinthouse Pizza, Family Business, Austin Eastciders, Cuvee Coffee and Vista Brewing. The Brewery Architect (http://www.breweryarchitect.com/blog) is a blog extension of Oliver’s architectural work at OPA Design Studio. The blog takes a deeper dive into design issues and industry trends surrounding breweries and distilleries.


About the Texas Brewery Road Trip

In March 2019, Stephen Oliver of OPA Design Studio (http://www.designopa.com/) and The Brewery Architect Blog (http://www.breweryarchitect.com/blog), and Caitlin Johnson of Big World, Small Girl (http://www.bigworldsmallgirl.com) went on the Texas Brewery Road Trip (http://www.thebreweryroadtrip.com). They drove across Texas in an RV and visited 51 breweries in ten days.


The locations they visited included: Texas Beer Company, New Republic Brewing, Brazos Valley Brewing Company, Lone Pint Brewery, No Label Brewing Company, 11 Below Brewing Company, Eureka Heights Brewing Company, Buffalo Bayou Brew Co, Great Heights Brewing Company, Brash Brewing, Baileson Brewing Co, Vallensons’ Brewing Company, BAKFISH Brewing Company, 8th Wonder Brewing Co, Sigma Brewing Company, Saint Arnold Brewing Co, Holler Brewing Company, Spindletap Brewery, B-52 Brewing, Southern Star Brewing, Copperhead Brewery, True Vine Brewing Company, Oak Highlands Brewery, Lakewood Brewing Company, 3 Nations Brewing, Bitter Sisters Brewing, Unlawful Assembly, Hop & Sting Brewing Company, Panther Island Brewing Company, Cowtown Brewing Company, Deep Ellum Funkatorium, The Collective Brewing Project, Rahr and Sons Brewing Company, Martin House Brewing Company, HopFusion Ale Works, Turning Point, Legal Draft Beer Company, Division Brewing, Peticolas Brewing Company, Texas Ale Project, Celestial Beerworks, Community Brewing Company, Steam Theory, Deep Ellum Brewing, Trinity Cider, Braindead Brewing, Four Corners Brewing, Pegasus City Brewery, Outfit Brewing, Oak Cliff Brewing, Barrow Brewing. For more information about the Texas Brewery Road Trip, including imagery from trip and participating sponsors, please visit www.thebreweryroadtrip.com.

The Place of Breweries at a "Turning Point"


During the last week of March, I took on the ambitious task of going to over 50 breweries in just over a week, living in an RV. I invited local Austin beer blogger, Caitlin Johnson of Big World Small Girl. She took on the task of sizing up the beers while my eye of course wandered to the layout, setup, look and feel, etc. As former Chair of the City of Austin Planning Commission I was of course interested in the zoning and overall development hurdles many of the breweries faced in their site selection and build out. While I’ll be writing several stories from all the great experiences we had with so many great breweries, the story of Turning Point Beer Company in Bedford, TX (a DFW suburb) resonated with planning commission and urban planning background.

We dropped in on Thursday morning as we headed back from Ft. Worth to Dallas on Day 7 of the trip. It was our first stop and the location immediately caught my attention. This wasn’t an industrial park, an old metal building standing alone that had been re-purposed. As I would learn later in my conversations with Alex and James, the name Turning Point was picked because that’s exactly how they view themselves with respect to how a brewery’s place in the community fabric can be envisioned and utilized. Turning Point is located in a 2nd or possibly even 3rd generation retail center in the heart of the bedroom community’s commercial area. Think typical old American strip mall. They just opened in 2018 but not without a fight.

One of the two adjacent tenants is a church. Churches located in strip malls aren’t exactly a good sign of positive health of the commercial property. The strip center before Turning Point’s arrival was in need of renewal whether that was through the landlord investing heavily in the buildings to attract a wider range of services and tenants to better serve the local neighborhood or risk the center continue its long slide into maintenance issues and neglect as the good paying tenants become harder to find. Turning Point choosing this center was leap of faith. They knew a strip mall wasn’t the typical location for a brewery. They were fighting conventional wisdom but I truly believe they intuitively got on to something that breweries, local leaders, and brewery advocates should take strong notice.

The initial risk was the presence of the church. As mandated by state and local law, their proximity to each other was going to trigger a conditional use case or waiver which in the Bedford scenario was going to be heard at City Council. I’ll jump quickly to the finish line as they reached a positive vote of 5-2. However the hearing and road to that decision wasn’t without some drama. Turning Point has another neighbor between themselves and the church. The church wasn’t opposed to the possible new brewery neighbor, even though the church’s use of the building was triggering the case. (Keep in mind that as a leased tenant, the church could move out any time and there would be no case…the unpredictable nature of all this). However, their next door neighbor, a kids’ gymnastics center had owners who apparently weren’t exactly enthusiastic about what Turning Point was proposing in setting up shop. The owners and some parents voiced strong displeasure and opposition to the approval of this use, even though it was the church that was the trigger. Their grounds, as you would expect, were for safety and to protect the kids.

I have kids. They are grown now. I’m sure most of your experiences at breweries involve the presence of kids at many of them. Breweries, while being a place that does serve alcohol, are typically not “bars” by the common definition and perception. There are many things depending on how they are setup, often like a community gathering point, a coffee shop, and playgrounds for adults and kids with board games or corn-hole, a needed connecting point in the community around a local brand. They aren’t open past midnight, certainly not on weeknights. They have employees who want to get home early to get up early and brew the next day. Most are extremely family friendly. Yet for many people, and especially as defined in city zoning codes, their dynamic, usefulness, and purpose in a community is largely misrepresented at hearings like this and misunderstood. Working to update codes to reflect the positivity of breweries in our communities is going to be huge challenge. It needs to be taken on.

I wasn’t at the hearing, so I don’t know specifically what was said. However, I do know that the parents of kids who attend the gym next door are now frequent patrons of Turning Point. It provides a great place to be after watching your kids practice. The owners have heard from many that they didn’t understand exactly what the brewery was, but knowing what they know now, they would never have opposed Turning Point’s successful approval. A common turn of events. Even city leaders echoed similar sentiments.


Turning Point highlights an increasingly important opportunity for smaller local brewpubs who are looking to find those gaps in our communities that are undeserved or overlooked. There are so many sites like this where a brewery can be a new connecting point for neighbors. Since large scale production isn’t their aim at this property, the lower ceiling heights, while not ideal, don’t present problems that can’t be solved. The storefront along the parking lot provide plenty of visibility of the production area. Their layout totally works. Lots of community tables are placed on one side in front of the walk up bar. The cooler and thru wall taps are placed directly behind for the short beer lines. The cellar area of 20BBL fermentors off of their 10BBL system becomes an easy point of interest to patrons. Their loading scenario works better than many retail centers assisting with the overall work flow.


I know in Austin we are increasingly running out of buildings and developments suitable for smaller brewpubs. We relegated them to areas where if they want to make beer and sell for on site consumption by right, they are pushed away into locations most breweries are not overly enthusiastic about. Smaller brewpubs while having a light industrial process, are more like a restaurant without food. Some choose to provide it out of necessity for compliance with code, increasing their construction and overhead cost, development risk, and their own hurdles to the initial business concept. Turning Point should be an example to many looking for the benefits that a local brewpub can offer as they play a instrumental role in revitalizing strip malls that have seen a better day and could use a little brewery love.

Oh and it would be shame to not mention that the beer is extremely good. Try the Dinglebop DIPA.