The TABC is definitely not one of the most popular government agencies among beer fans in Texas. While their laws can be quite restrictive against beer in general (but for some reason, much looser for things like distilleries and wineries), it does provide us with some interesting data. Thanks to the system in place, I can access all of the label approvals over the last decade.
This is an updated article from one that I wrote last year to reflect changes that have happened over the last year.
Background Info on Label Approvals:
Now, this started more out of curiosity, but I found the trends interesting. Before I start going into all of the charts, I should explain a little about label approvals and how they work. In Texas, every beer that is sold on the shelves require a TABC approval for that label. This includes bottles, cans, and kegs. Saying that 300 label approvals came through does not mean that 300 new beers are now available, it just means that 300 new label certificates from the TABC. Basically, a label certificate can consist of one size of container (let’s say a 12 oz can) or it can include multiple formats of that product (a keg size, a can, and a bottle all on one). So, this just shows some random insight into how labels are coming into Texas. (If you are curious about what labels are approved in Texas, I do a weekly article that you can see here: https://craftbeeraustin.com/category/tabc-updates/).
Another misconception with label approvals is that every beer in Texas must have it to be sold at a brewery. This is not quite true. If a brewery has a brewpub license, they do not have to have label approvals for the beer they sell onsite. Jester King, for example, has a brewpub license. All of their beers do not get label approvals at the beginning. Seeing how they do a majority of their sales onsite, they do not need to get them unless that bottle is going into distribution. Once a bottle leaves the site for any reason to be sold, it must have label approval. Places like Pinthouse Pizza and NXNW never received label approval until it was legal for them to distribute.
Along with that note on Pinthouse Pizza and NXNW, most of their label approvals are because they have two locations. Thanks to the wonderful rules of the TABC, they have to receive label approval to sell a beer made at one of their locations and sold at another one of their locations. Pinthouse has to go even one step further; due to them having other breweries’ beers on tap, they have to go through a distributor to sell beer back to themselves. But, that is a separate article for another day.
As far as the labels go themselves, any revision to a label has to be approved again. Some breweries never change their labels, so they just have one label approval for many years. Other breweries seem to change their labels quite often, which means they get a lot of new approvals. Along with that, places that seem to experiment a lot put out a lot more approvals. Or, places that like to put beer out in as many formats as possible to take up as much grocery store’s shelves as possible (not going to name names here like AB-InBev), tend to get a lot more approvals.
I ended up going through every full year of data that was available (22,472 total approvals) for me to compile all of this into an Excel document. All of the data is for 2006 to 2017. I could have gone back to mid-2005, but using half a year’s worth of data would have just screwed up the charts. One other word of caution, I am listing approvals as they show up on the TABC database. One approval may include two formats on it, but only shows up as one entity on their search.
We will start with the total number of approvals each year broken into total approvals, macro approvals, “craft” approvals, and Texas brewery approvals. I should note that for macro, I generally took out anything that is considered a regular macro beer. Approvals for things like Bud, Coors, Miller, Seagram’s (alco-pop drinks show up in these, so I included them in macro), and major Euro breweries like Heineken, etc. The craft section is for anything that was not macro and not an alco-pop. This includes all of the Texas breweries in it. I also included AB-InBev brands like Elysian and Goose Island in the craft section. The basic way I differentiated them was that if they were brewed at an AB-InBev facility, they went to macro. If they were brewed at Goose Island’s actual brewery, they went to craft. It was a much easier way to draw a line. As far as the Texas breweries, it is anything made in Texas that was not macro. This means Shiner is included in that number but not Pabst’s plant in DFW.
Approvals by Breweries:
Texas approvals, and craft approvals in general, have been growing steadily since 2011. What is interesting is that the amount of craft approvals (minus TX) is just about equal to the number of TX approvals coming through (1,893 Texas approvals versus 3,946 craft approvals). The actual number of craft approvals not from Texas slightly dropped for the first time since 2009, while Texas’ approvals went up over 30%. This could be caused by more competition from local breweries and less incentive for out of state breweries to send their beers into Texas.
Then you take a look at the macro label approvals, it stayed relatively steady compared to last year. For a couple of years, AB (and others), were putting out an ever increasing number of labels, but that seems to have stopped. Considering that there are more macro breweries able to distribute into Texas (from random places like Vietnam), this may actually mean that macro companies are starting to put out less new labels/formats.
In 2017 total, 401 breweries received at least one label approval last year through the TABC.
On to Texas label approvals. We have obviously seen a substantial growth of Texas breweries over the last 5 years. The label approvals continue to show this as well. Last year had the biggest number growth over any of the previous year (with 466 more than last year). This makes sense due to the sheer number of breweries that are now in operation in Texas. I do not expect that trend to end until breweries stop opening or breweries to just stop distributing as much.
Now, a look into the individual breweries across all categories that are submitting labels. This chart likely will not change much from last year’s.
It comes as no real surprise who a lot of the top ones are. Basically, any place that makes a bunch of beer for a bunch of different breweries tends to be up there. Boston Beer (basically Samuel Adams, Twisted Tea, etc) is on there due to how many brands they have started making over the last couple of years. Also, most places on this list are places that have distributed to Texas for all of the 10+ years that the data covers. One thing to note, Boston Beer Company has gained substantially on Anheuser-Busch over the last couple of years…as you will see below. Saint Arnold and Real Ale, two of the biggest Texas craft brewers, are the only two breweries that show up in the top 20 label approvers. They are also two of the breweries that have been around from before 2006.
Along with 2015 and 2016, there were two breweries that received the most label approvals by far. Those two would be Boston Beer Company and Anheuser Busch. With that said, their dominance in that category seems to be dropping. Boston Beer cut the number of new label approvals down to a third of what it used to be, while AB stayed about the same. Sure, they are both almost a double of the next closest brewery, but for their sizes, you should expect more approvals.
As far as the Texas breweries go, here are the top breweries getting approvals over the last 12 years.
On this chart, it is not necessarily the breweries that have been open the longest with the most amount of approvals. Jester King, Hops and Grain, and Karbach have both only been getting approvals since 2011 (well, minus 2 for Jester King in 2010). Spoetzl (aka Shiner) has been around the longest and is not near the top on this list, but they also do not put out many new beers until recently. New ones on this list are Oasis, 5 Stones, and Freetail. The ones that fell out were Rogness (makes sense, they are no longer open), Branchline (again, they are no longer operating their standalone brewery), and Grapevine Craft Brewery. 231 Texas breweries have received label approvals from 2006 to 2017 (up from 181 in 2016). In just 2017, 193 Texas breweries were actively getting labels approved.
Saint Arnold came in with the most, while Lakewood and Austin Beerworks tie for the second most approvals through last year. With that said, a lot of newer places show up like Celis, Holler, St. Elmo, and Good Neighbor.
If you include all of the craft breweries in this, here are the top approvers for 2017:
Interesting to note that only five of the top 20 actually came from Texas breweries. Even with the large increase in Texas approvers, the larger out of state craft brewers are still dominating the label approvals.
Approvals by Format
This is a breakdown of what exactly is getting approved into Texas by format. I should note, though, this is ONLY for the craft categories. The way I compiled this data is basically anything that I have been putting on my weekly TABC approvals articles are on this. The total number of craft approvals in this section will not match with the above section as I broke down the above approvals into formats. For example, an above approval may include a keg, bottle and a can on a single approval. Down here, I split them apart to represent their individual format.
I think this is a trend that we will see throughout the craft beer industry over the next couple of years – the switch to cans. The number of can approvals again had a large increase. I do not think that anyone will be surprised by this…the whole craft industry is seemingly switching to cans and bailing on bottles. Kegs will always lead on approvals solely due to pretty much every beer is going to come in kegs as well. I would not be surprised if the number of can approvals surpasses that of bottles by next year. Another thing to note, the number of bottle approvals actually dropped. I am guessing that this is the first time that this has happened (my data does not go back that far to verify this).
To break those approvals down even further, I broke the size of those formats down:
This further illustrates the point about cans. The 12 oz can format, along with 16 oz cans, are two of the most rapidly growing areas. All formats of bottles dropped in the number of approvals that they are receiving compared to last year. For the first time as well, 12 oz cans now surpass the number of approvals of the more traditional 12 oz bottles.
TABC Approvals by Industry:
Beer is not the only industry that has to go through a label approval process. Wine and liquor also have to go through the same sort of approvals, but often times it involves different requirements. Still, I figured it would be interesting to see the number of approvals by industry.
The total number of approvals last year actually dropped from the TABC. Beer was the only industry that actually increased the number of labels that they sent in. This surprised me a little, mainly about the overall number dropping, considering all of the distilleries and wineries that are still opening up in Texas.
Even with that said, wine takes up a majority of all approvals going through the TABC. Beer, in 2016, only made up 19.7% of the approvals. This year? 23.1%.
I do think that one of the most improved areas that breweries see is the decreased times it takes to get an approval through the TABC.
Here are the stats from when I made the article before in January 2016:
And for 2017?
The average processing time dropped from 40 days to 15 days for beer. This may have come at the expense of wine and distilled spirits, who both increased.