24th July 2020
Here in Texas, things are getting worse. I wish it wasn’t true, but the deeper I try to bury my head in the sweet, soft sand of (yes, beer-fuelled) denial, the sharper and more painful each rude awakening to both the sorry state of both my own bank balance and the torturously precarious position of our beloved brewery taprooms becomes. Covid-19 and the disruptive nightmare of pandemic, quarantine and all the associated shutdowns and layoffs have plunged us into what can only be described as Small Business Hell, and independent breweries are on the front line.
As this awful, miserable year-of-Covid rolls on with no sign of meaningful economic relief, we now have news from the Texas Craft Brewers’ Guild that one in three Texas breweries could close permanently within three months, and two out of three could close within the year without changes in the law to allow them to stay open according to CDC guidelines. Then we had the fiasco of yes-we-are-no-we’re-not brewery porch drinking rule, the absurd illogical cruelty of which beggars belief. I’m a UK transplant who has a minimal understanding of local politics and very little insight into the machinations of the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission or their links to the office of Governor Abbot, so I don’t know exactly what kind of dodgy shenanigans are going on there, but to a (relative) outsider, it really feels like our breweries (and other small business alcohol producers) are under a concerted, political attack. Is corporate ‘big beer’ cashing in on the pandemic to reclaim market share by pushing our independent breweries beyond economic sustainability? Yes, I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but I’m grasping for reasons why outdoor patio and beer gardens, clean, airy spaces, would be closed when restaurants are permitted to seat folks indoors where everyone is breathing each other’s air. What the hell is going on here? Surely this is a state that should support and defend small business, so why launch such a focussed and irrational initiative? At my most paranoid-subversive, I can quietly convince myself that this is a right-wing Republican attack on the cosy liberal world of independent craft beer, an attempt to rid the state of the pernicious open-minded ways of the broad-palated drinker. Then I remember that, although that logic might play back home, this is Texas and we have craft brewery owners running the full gamut of the political spectrum, so that can’t be right either. At least, in a world that made sense it couldn’t be.
I’m rambling, yes, but the office of Governor Abbot is rambling much worse, and with the potential for serious, irreversible consequences. Taprooms are the financial lifeblood for the majority of Texas breweries, and so far this year they have been closed for more days than they have been open. How can any business sustain itself through a period of indefinite loss for which it won’t be compensated? Even with a strong, dedicated consumer base getting out to buy beer-to-go, they cannot hope to recoup the money that they have lost in 2020, and will not be able to take their businesses forward without an immediate change to the law. Of course, breweries aren’t the only folks to be financially drained by the pandemic. Like many hard-hit consumers, I am being forced to ask for how much longer I can continue to support our taprooms at my current (yes, relatively high) rate of expenditure. As the economic tornado of Covid-19 tears on, we need to push for governmental support for these businesses to back up our own spending power. Aside from the unarguable unfairness of a system that prevents us supporting our much-loved local breweries with safe, sanitised, distanced outdoor consumption but permits any anonymous chain restaurant to soak up what disposable cash Texans still have left to spend, there is also the question of our identity, of what small business, local business means to our society. In order to preserve our ability to spend locally and sustainably, supporting our friends and neighbours, both now and once the pandemic is (eventually) over, we need to lobby for state support to ensure these businesses are able to survive. Keep spending locally, keep pushing the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission and the Governor’s office and spread the word or we will lose or breweries.
Sign the Texas Craft Brewer’s Guild’s petitions to Governor Abbot here