Despite popular belief craft beer isn’t new. OUR craft beer boom is new but people have been brewing for for at least 5,000 years. The dark days of prohibition and the unnecessary restrictions on home brewing put a damper on American craft beer during the 20th century. Long before 1978, when home brewing was legalized in the United States, you had Americans secretly (and not so secretly) brewing in their basements. Once Jimmy Carter signed that glorious bill into law it further opened up the joy of craft beer to millions of Americans. In 1979 there were 89 breweries (micro and macro) in the entire country. We are now close to, or have surpassed, the 1873 all time high of 4,131 breweries in the United States. The effects of craft breweries on the American beer landscape cannot be exaggerated.
What has been noted time and time again is that the creativity and success of craft brewers are mainly limited by prohibitive laws at the state and municipal levels. We have seen in the past, and are still fighting against, archaic and restrictive beer laws in Texas. In state after state we see when lawmakers get out of the way of innovation craft breweries pop up like wildflowers. Many people ask me why Colorado has more craft breweries than Texas when it is so much smaller. The simple answer is until recently it was much more difficult to run a profitable craft brewery in Texas. Before 2013 Texas breweries could not sell beer for on-site consumption making a taproom illegal. For most craft breweries a vibrant taproom business is essential for financial success especially in the early years. Once Texas lawmakers loosened up these restrictions we began our current craft beer boom and things haven’t slowed down one bit during the past 4 years. Only around 25 Texas craft breweries existed in 2012. We are currently closing in on 200 craft breweries and brewpubs in Texas. Now that entrepreneurs can open a brewery and make money we are seeing unique microbreweries opening up across the state. At times it seems a new one opens every couple of weeks. What a time to live in Texas!
One important thing to remember is that as much as we may love craft beer, and as quickly as new breweries are popping up across the state, the majority of Texans know very little about craft beer and are happy chugging their favorite macro beer. LIGHT BEER IS KING!!! Just look at the beer selection of the average bar or restaurant.
BUD LIGHT. MILLER LITE. COORS LIGHT. NATTY LIGHT. BUSCH LIGHT.
Americans, and Texans, drink light beer and LOVE it. Most bar owners don’t help the situation either. I talk to bar and restaurant owners often and the majority of them do not care about craft beer. They are clueless. They simply put on tap what the distributor tells them will sell. They don’t know what beers to ask for and do not fight to get that keg of rare beer. On top of that most wouldn’t be willing to pay the extra cost to get that premium craft brew. So how do we share the gospel of craft beer with more people if they are happy with the light beer and every bar or restaurant they visit pushes light beer?
One person at a time.
Craft beer culture has to be grown organically. It cannot be forced. Americans, especially Texans, are fiercely independent. In my experience the easiest way to get that Michelob Ultra loving friend to enjoy a craft beer is to share one of yours with them. Who doesn’t love a free beer??? Don’t berate them with how crappy their beer is and how superior your beer is. Hand them a craft beer that is similar in style to what they already enjoy. Just showing them that someone other than AB InBev/MillerCoors can make a beer they enjoy is the first step in their craft beer awakening. I still get a tear in my eye when one particular friend who exclusively drank Michelob Ultra shows up to a gathering with a couple of 6 packs of great craft beer. It may take some work to win your friends over but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Being involved in our craft beer boom is fun! What an awesome time to be a craft beer lover in this neck of the (piney) woods! One day you will be able to tell your grandkids about being at True Vine for their first Open Taps or waiting in line to try that first pint of Moon Pool at Oil Horse. It is exciting to hear about new breweries coming to Tyler and seeing people line up to enjoy a pint at Fredonia Brewery in Nacogdoches. Remember just a few years ago when B Dubs had the best tap selection in town??? Those were dark days my friends! Don’t take for granted the privilege of being able to regularly enjoy fresh local beer around town. I damn near shed a tear when I was able to drink Landman at BJ’s. I was beyond excited to explain to the old guy next to me at On The Border that the beer he asked about was brewed right here in Longview, Texas. Going over to True Vine or hanging out at Oil Horse is always a fun time. You run into other craft beer lovers or those who are just curious about what in the heck this craft beer thing is all about. Spending hours enjoying and talking about craft beer with people from my community is something I couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago.
Another fun aspect of our craft beer boom is the economic and community benefits. Especially with the downturn in oil East Texas needs all the revenue streams it can get. Craft breweries do more than bring in a few extra tax dollars. Their impact is exponential. As you have seen many craft breweries enhabit older parts of town and reside in repurposed buildings. I love seeing these old buildings with so much history being used for something like a brewery. The old dilapidated building that was under threat of being torn down is now a community hangout and the heart of the neighborhood. Suddenly you have people visiting a part of town they normally would not visit. They realize their are neat shops and delicious restaurants in the area as well. Now the presence of a craft brewery is impacting other businesses in the area. Soon you have young people wanting to move into the area because they can walk to their neighborhood deli, brewery and coffee shop. What used to be a dying part of town becomes a vibrant and hip community. People begin to be curious about the history of the area and soon they are appreciating the contributions of those who have lived there before. A growing trend and one of the more popular aspects of some new craft breweries are the local food trucks that serve them. The symbiotic relationship between a craft brewery and a food truck can be a beautiful thing. I cannot tell you the number of times I have chosen to go to one brewery over another simply because I know there will be an awesome food truck on site. I’ve also been to breweries such as Division Brewing in Arlington that have local craft vendors set up outside. Time and time again I’ve seen a craft brewery breathe new life into a neighborhood or community. In the case of Cedar Creek Brewery I’d argue the brewery has brought many people to their city who would’ve never had any reason to visit Seven Points, Texas. Once more Texas lawmakers realize the economic and communal benefit of craft breweries I believe we will see the restrictive laws relaxed even more. The ability for breweries to sell packaged beer and growlers for off site consumption is a must. This will help breweries to unlock new revenue streams and better serve their communities.
Our craft beer boom is only beginning and it needs your help to continue. Support your local brewers. Visit their taproom. Drink their beers when you are out on the town. Pick up a six pack from your favorite craft beer retailer. Eat at the restaurant a few shops down from the brewery before or after you stop in for a pint. Request your favorite craft beer at your regular watering hole and grocery store. Without the support of the community a craft brewery cannot survive. With new breweries soon to open here in East Texas it will be important to help bring more and more people into the craft beer family. Buy a six pack of Dankosaurus at Brookshires and share with a friend. Offer to buy a Mermaids and Unicorns for your friend the next time you are at Rotolo’s. Most importantly enjoy being a craft beer lover during the greatest craft beer boom our state has ever seen. Other states may have beat us to the punch but this is OUR craft beer boom and everyone knows everything is bigger in Texas!!!
Joel Patrick Heflin