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 and look at the Texas beer growth & trends from 2006 to 2015.
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 requests were approved by the TABC. Basically, a label approval 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. Brewpubs 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 (13,774 total approvals) in order to compile all of this into an Excel document. I probably should have better things to do with my time, but I was bored one day and got it done. All of the data is for 2006 to 2015. I could have gone back to mid-2005, but using half a year’s worth of data would have just screwed up the charts. This is the same reason I did not get any 2016 data.
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, Seagrams (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.
Now, the first thing to note is just how crappy our distribution was back in 2006. Macro dominated pretty much everything. There were only 213 craft approvals all year for craft (and only 20 from TX). To put that in perspective, there were more Texas label approvals last week than there were all of 2006. That 213 number is around what came through over the last 3 weeks of craft label approvals.
Then you take a look at the macro label approvals. They remained relatively stagnant from 2006 to 2014. The average number over a single year was 316 approvals. Then, 2015 happened. Supported mostly by AB-InBev, 990 approvals came through. That is over 3 times the average per year of the last decade.
One can wonder why, but to me, it seems pretty clear. They are worried about losing market share and want to have as many offerings as possible on grocery store shelves. If you get a label approval for the same beer in as many formats as possible, it will just take up more grocery store space than just have one size. Along with this, they are putting out as many Shock Top and Blue Moon (for MillerCoors) as possible.
On to Texas label approvals. We have obviously seen a substantial growth of Texas breweries over the last 5 years. The label approvals show this as well.
The growth really started trending up in about 2010-2011 range. What also is interesting is just how steady the growth has been for 5 years number wise. Percentage wise, the number is slowing down just due to the sheer number of approvals that there now are each year.
If you compare 2015 with where we were in 2006, we saw a 6010% increase in label approvals in just 10 years. It is a 5,855% increase over 5 years, and a 292% increase over just 3 years ago.
Now, a look into the individual breweries that are submitting labels. You can probably guess who submitted the most labels.
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.
To further the point about Anheuser Busch and pushing new labels, notice how their amount shot up over the last year compared to all of the other top 5 label approves.
As far as the Texas breweries go, here are the top breweries getting approvals.
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. Live Oak, who has been around long before 2005, came in 52nd place out of Texas breweries for the most label approvals in the last decade. For what it’s worth, 133 Texas breweries have received label approvals from 2006 to 2015.
I found the data interesting even though I did not start combing through all of it to write this article. With all of the new breweries opening up in Texas, I fully expect the number of label approvals to continue to climb. It comes as no surprise that they amount of time it takes to get a label approved for breweries seems sporadic these days.