Open the Taps: Houston Lobbies for Statewide Access to Better Beer

It's one thing to sit and complain about the wretched restrictions the State of Texas has placed on the sale and distribution of craft beer. It's quite another to actually do something about it. And because Houston is a city of do-ers, five Houston craft beer lovers have created Open the Taps.

The organization, headed up by local beer blogger Ted Duchesne, aims to change the way that Texas beer laws are structured and ultimately make it easier for consumers to purchase craft beer and easier for breweries to sell it.

"With the recent boom in new breweries and brewpubs in the state, now more than ever is the time to make meaningful change in Texas as it relates to the beer industry," Duchesne wrote recently on his blog, Barley Vine.

"From allowing sales at breweries and lifting restrictive limitations on production and distribution for brewpubs, to reaching outside of our state to make entering the Texas market more feasible by easing antiquated labeling restrictions, Open The Taps wants to advocate craft beer in a complete, holistic sense."

To that end, Ronnie Crocker at the Chron reports that Open the Taps will soon launch a fundraising effort aimed at raising $10,000 to begin creating a lobbying group and marketing materials for their state-wide campaign.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the group shares similarities with organizations like Free the Hops, which helped introduce legislation in Alabama to change the maximum alcohol by volume amount in beer from 6 percent to 13.9 percent. The bill was introduced into Alabama's legislature in 2007 and signed into law in 2009, proving that groups such as Free the Hops and Open the Taps can make a significant difference when properly run and organized.

And considering who the founders of Open the Taps are, I can see a similarly bright future ahead of them: Leslie Sprague, a local beer blogger who's involved in organizations like the Texas chapter of Girls Pint Out and Ladies of Craft Beer; Chris White, a beer blogger better known by his Twitter handle as @beer_chris; Cathy Clark Rascoe, a lawyer and beer blogger who recently won a Houston Web Award for her blog, Brewtiful, in the Best Political Blog category; and John Speights, a longtime home brewer and craft beer connoisseur.

The idea for Open the Taps was born not from one individual, but from a group consensus that something had to give after the recent defeat of House Bill 602 -- many say at the hands of Anheuser-Busch.

"After HB 602 & HB 660 both failed," says Sprague, "Cathy Clark Rascoe and Ted Duchesne both blogged about what Texans needed to do in the future to ensure we could get bills like the aforementioned to pass. In doing so, they both referenced other grassroots, non-profit organizations like Free The Hops and Raise Your Pints."

"The five of us started discussing what we could all do, and decided the only way would be to form a 501(c)(6) and work to change things from a consumer side. We started meeting, filling out forms and discussing ideas and in a few short, but busy weeks, Open The Taps was born."

Like Duchesne in his interview with Ronnie Crocker, Sprague speaks about the "fourth tier" in the beer world: the consumers.

"We want the fourth tier, the consumers, to have a voice," she says. "This will have to be done through lobbying efforts and electing officials that support our mission outright."

And although she's optimistic that Open the Taps will have the same success as other organizations before it, Sprague is realistic: "We know this may not happen in the next legislative session in 2013, but we are going to give it our all."

"Of course, in the process," she continued, "we hope to educate as many people as possible about craft beer and to help them understand that this isn't just about beer; the craft beer industry is about families and small-business owners, something that Texas prides itself in supporting."

Open the Taps will have its official launch party this Saturday, July 23, at Moon Tower Inn at 4 p.m. And if you're a craft beer lover, your presence at the launch party is strongly suggested.

"We...want to get a better idea of what the public and brewery and brewpub owners think needs change, besides what we already know," said Sprague. "We are only five people -- for now -- and we hope to be able to represent the people as best as possible."

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