The last thing you would expect to read at a Dallas beer festival would be an article about the Oklahoma craft beer scene.
Most of the nation has always regarded Oklahoma as a little backward, a rural conservative state with few major industries beyond farming and natural gas. Their outdated alcohol laws do not help this reputation—to North Texans especially, as our proximity has made us somewhat familiar with Oklahoma’s legendary backward beer laws and regulations. As arcane and prehistoric as Texas beer laws can be, we could at least take some comfort in knowing that Oklahoman craft beer fans had it worse.
In only a few short months, Oklahoma will have less restrictive beer laws than Texas for the first time ever.
This is about to change in a very significant way come this October. In May 2016, the Oklahoma legislature passed SB 383, which included the most sweeping updates to their alcohol laws since Prohibition. It modernizes if not eliminates many pointless statutes and “blue law” restrictions, and effectively restructures the ABLE Commission (Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement, their state’s version of the TABC).
No more stocking shelves with warm beer, or the infamous “3.2” limit. No more ABV caps for brewpubs, or ridiculous restrictions such as no persons under the age of 21 (which can impact modern craft breweries and gastropubs eyeing a family demographic). No more sales restrictions or special permitting at festivals. An expansion of homebrewing rights, wine and beer licenses for grocery and convenience stores, and broader operating hours/days for retailers. The new laws even allow for direct sales from breweries and stronger brewer rights with regard to distributors.
The law was intentionally given a distant two-year effective date (2018) to allow all the players in Oklahoma—breweries, retailers, distributors, even counties and municipalities—time to react to changes and update their own needs and practices accordingly. (Eighteen counties in the state are still dry.) Since that time other changes have followed, just about all of them progressive and beneficial to the craft beer indutry, including a statewide referendum (State Question 792) validating the aforementioned bill. Oklahomans are warmly embracing the craft beer movement.
Why is any of this relevant to Texas? Earlier this year, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild launched CraftPAC (www.craftpac.org) specifically as a lobbying body to advance the business and industry needs of the state’s craft beer movement. Its sole purpose is to educate Austin lawmakers and support candidates and legislation who will act for the needs of independent Texas brewers both large and small, hopefully moderating the influence of the more powerful wholesale lobby. With our state’s brewing industry maturing rapidly, it is unlikely we will see a public referendum; therefore, CraftPAC has to be the voice at the legislative table for consumers and small brewers alike.
In only a few short months, Oklahoma will have less restrictive beer laws than Texas for the first time, including the coveted direct sales rights that our state’s brewers have fought so earnestly to change. Less regulation means more competition, with Oklahoma set to instantly become a strong competitor located just beyond the Red River (and their craft brewers are just as good as ours). Texans do not like to consider themselves second to anyone, so now is the time to throw our support behind CraftPAC and their efforts if we, brewing and selling as a state, do not want to be left behind. SD
Originally published for 7th Annual Big Texas Beer Fest (2018 program).