A Beer Drinkers Guide to Brewpubs and Taprooms

Beer Drinkers Guide to Brewery Taprooms and Brewpubs

This article was originally written from the perspective of the 2014 Texas beer laws climate. GBG hopes to continue to see these change and evolve to support our local breweries and their fans, better.

If you have been around the Texas beer scene for longer than 2 years, you might realize how thrilling it is to write an article like this. If you haven’t been around that long, simply put, two years ago there were no brewery taprooms in Texas and you could count the number of brewpubs on one hand. And I can promise you, it wasn’t that Texas just hadn’t caught on to what the other states in this great country had already figured out. No, until two years ago a brewery taproom was simply illegal.

As archaic as it sounds, these are laws that have been on the book since prohibition and there hasn’t been any push until the past several years to change that. So, as breweries seek to construct on-site taprooms and brewpubs popping up what seems like almost daily, let’s take a brief look at the differences between a brewpub and a brewery taproom.

Bearded Eel Brewery Taproom - North Fort Worth / Saginaw

At the beginning of 2013, legislation was passed to allow breweries to sell beer for on-site consumption. For Texas brewpubs, this wasn’t a new thing, but the new law gave breweries the choice to do away with the Tour and Tasting model, if they should so choose. The original law stated that a brewery could not sell any beer directly from the brewery for on or off premise consumption. This meant you had to pay around $10 for a tour of the brewery and you would receive a glass for “samples.” Samples were “free,” and these samples (at a typical 16oz pour) were the only way you could try the beer at your local brewery.

Tours were limited to a couple of hours (often 1-2 days out of the week) and you were limited on your number of samples. If you wanted more, you couldn’t purchase another glass to get more beer, and the only way the brewery could make any money from these tours was merchandise or to constantly bring in entertainment to increase the number of new and seasoned beer fans coming through the door.

With the 2013 legislation, a brewery can still follow the original Tour and Tasting model, or they can hold longer hours throughout a week, (or even every day,) charge a customer per beer, which provided the option for a tour whenever they feel like it. With that new law going into effect, already open breweries across the state started retrofitting their locations to open brewery taprooms.

In short, a brewery taproom is moreorless a bar in the brewery without food, guest beers or the option to carry spirits. And while you can now go to a brewery and purchase beer at that taproom for on-premise consumption, the law still leaves taprooms lacking the ability for you to purchase beer to take off-premise.

This means, unlike brewpubs, you cannot come to a brewery taproom and buy a six pack, a keg, or get your growler filled of your favorite beer. Most brewers will tell you this is something that they are hoping to see change in the next couple of years, but for now, the only way to get around that is to become a brewpub. But, while this is a great option for a lot of new breweries, larger/more-established breweries cannot choose the brewpub licensing model because it comes with it’s own set of things that holds the brewery back from being completely competitive, primarily involving the amount of beer they are allowed to make for off-site accounts. For most breweries, means they would be unable to regularly find their beer in a metropolitan area (beyond bars, like grocery stores and package stores) or even the whole state. Simply put, wide-spread growth, under Texas’ brewpub law, is stunted and hindered at best.

While the brewery taproom is straight from the source, like a brewpub, a brewery taproom in Texas normally doesn’t have food, the option to carry guest beers, or the option to have spirits, like a full bar. And while brewpubs can do that, brewpubs aren’t just a pub that has a brewery in the back; typically brewpubs are focused on the entire experience. Their food, their drinks, the atmosphere, all has a common strain to build a complete picture.

Think about it like this: a brewpub has the ability to be a beer dinner, with cocktail hour (should the brewpub choose to carry spirits and/or guest taps), every time you walk in the door. If I were to really spell it out, a brewpub is short for a brewery pub, originally offering the ability for a brewery to be a part of the local community whilst making beer for beyond the confines of it’s walls or city limits.

Photo credit: Tiney Ricciardi - DallasNews.com
Photo credit: Tiney Ricciardi – DallasNews.com

But how far do we yet to go with these two concepts, in comparison with the rest of the country? In Texas, we’ve made huge leaps in the past two years both in North Texas and the state as a whole. But, as you travel to other states like Colorado, California or Ohio, you’ll find we still have a few more leaps to make.

In other states, brewery taprooms can operate similar to a brewpub, but they have an option to have food or not. They also have the option to sell for on and off premise consumption. The lines between a brewery taproom and a brewpubs are a little blurred in other states with these options, and they also have limitations with how much beer they sell to off-site accounts. As an example, we can look at Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio or SanTan Brewing in Phoenix, Arizona. Both of these breweries have a full menu of food at their brewery pub, brunch on the weekends, plus all of their beers on tap. At SanTan Brewing and other breweries outside of Texas, you’ll even find guest beers and tap takeovers happening, right along side their own beers and specials.

What it really boils down to is this: Texas has separated the idea/ability of a brewery on how it deals with customers at it’s location, in order to support distributors and other larger companies (like macro brewery owned distributors), effectively limiting their business and their ability compete with anything but themselves. Unlike Texas, other states have defined the breweries by their business size, not how they sell their beers. And right now, that is something pretty big that is holding Texas breweries back.

Great Lakes Brewery taproom / bar patio - Photo credit: discoveringcleveland.com
Great Lakes Brewery taproom / bar patio – Photo credit: discoveringcleveland.com

Texas’ craft beer fans owe a lot of this boom in brewery and brewpub openings to the tireless folks who worked hard to bring our state laws into the 21st century, and even though we’ve accomplished a lot, there is much left to be done. Like anything in government and business, it takes money to get things moving. The more breweries and brewpubs we see open, the more they will be able to contribute to the cause and the more they will be able to accomplish; and that means nothing but good things for you and I. Freedom of choice is the greatest thing about this country and it’s pretty awesome to be able to support that freedom by drinking a delicious brew from our local brewery or brewpub.

Do you want to help? Visit OpenTheTaps.org and get informed about how you can help beyond buying well-crafted locally made beer in Texas.

Curious about local breweries with taprooms and brewpubs?