Texas has become the final state in the country to let its manufacturing breweries sell beer to go from their taprooms.
The final legislative step left Richard Womack, co-owner of Railport Brewing Company in Waxahachie, with just one word: "Beautiful."
"I can't wait, Womack added with a smile while standing on the Railport stage. "I know what my next purchase is going to be — a can seamer."
Saturday morning, after six consecutive legislative sessions during which brewers fought to legalize beer-to-go, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill that will make it so, perhaps making a little bit of history himself by holding the signing ceremony at a brewery near the Texas Capitol, Austin Beerworks.
One of its co-founders, Adam DeBower, was particularly instrumental in getting the issue front and center at the Capitol, as the legislative committee chair for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
"As a manufacturing brewer, it's hard for me to put into words just how important this legislation is to our industry," DeBower said when introducing Abbott in the packed taproom just before 11 a.m. Saturday.
Starting Sept. 1, consumers will be able to buy up to a case of beer per day per person at any manufacturing brewery in the state, which includes Railport Brewing Company, the lone micro-brewery in Ellis County. Brewpubs such as The Plaid Turtle Drafthouse in Waxahachie already have been able to offer take-home beers to customers.
Womack stated Railport would, after Sept. 1 and the purchase of a can seamer, have the opportunity to sell anything from an eight-ounce can up to a 32-ounce can (also referred to as a crowler) directly from the tap to the consumer. He explained the seamer simply crimps places the top of a can onto the top of an alumni sleeve and then crimps the edges.
Womack also noted the local brewery has plans to either sell three-packs of 32-ounce crowlers or a "Railport 4 Pack" with four 16-ounce cans. Either way, he added, there will be 64-ounce Growlers available on Sept. 1.
The jovial signing — during which Abbott and the main legislators involved in the passage of the bill sipped cans of Austin Beerworks' Pearl-Snap Pilsner — came after a bumpy legislative session for beer to go, despite the concept having bipartisan support in the Texas House and Senate. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, whose district includes Ellis County, was seated the left of Abbott during the signing.
Beer-to-go's main opponents, the distributors, had argued that beer-to-go would erode the three-tier system that governs the production, distribution and sale of alcohol in Texas.
Ultimately, a compromise with each distributor group was worked out, and in the final days of the session, beer to go was unanimously approved as an amendment to a larger bill concerning the operations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
That measure, House Bill 1545, is what Abbott signed to great fanfare at Austin Beerworks. It serves as the "single most sweeping package of reform to the Texas alcoholic beverage code since its inception, and that is no exaggeration," DeBower said. It included, in addition to beer to go, the removal of the arbitrary distinction between "beer" and "ale" and comprehensive label approval reform.
Abbott began his remarks by pointing out that he could begin with a series of clichés. "It's time for us to belly up to the table and serve up a nice frosty tall glass of freedom before I make the last call for signing in the legislative session," he joked.
"We could be making Texas history today," he said. "I'm unaware of any governor ever signing a piece of legislation in a brewery in the state of Texas."
Once Abbott had signed the bill, he took full advantage of the setting. "I think this deserves a toast," he said, and cans of Austin Beerworks' popular pilsner were passed around to the governor and other lawmakers present, including Birdwell, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall. The crowd in the taproom — full of media, brewers and other industry players — clapped and cheered as the governor and lawmakers took sips of their beers.
DeBower showed off the signed bill to friends in the taproom afterward.
"I am so stoked. Actually, 'stoked' might be an understatement," he said, noting that Austin Beerworks will be among the breweries hosting beer-to-go parties in their taprooms on Sept. 1, when the new law goes into effect.
Womack also confirmed that Railport will join the celebration that Sunday from its brewery and taproom in Waxahachie.
"[Saturday's] signing is a major win for the freedom and economic prosperity for which Texas has become known," Abbott added in a statement issued by his office. "It is no secret that Lone Star State is one of the best states for business and entrepreneurship, and House Bill 1545 plays an important role in maintaining this by ensuring our beverage industry is free of stifling regulations. I am grateful to the legislators and stakeholders here today who played a vital role in getting this legislation to my desk."
Travis M. Smith/Daily Light contributed to this report.