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Why Does Austin Have So Many Breweries?

Jun 8th, 2022

If you’ve spent any time at all in Austin (especially if you live in our Austin apartments), then you’ve no doubt passed by more than a few breweries and brewpubs scattered around the city. 

Austin is famous for its craft beer scene, and there’s hardly a beer bro in town who won’t boast of the city’s many local brews.  

But for all of Austin’s modern-day success, the state of Texas used to be a battlefield for Prohibition and is still host to many strict liquor laws. Despite it all, however, Austin continues to thrive.

Check out this glimpse into the history of liquor laws in Texas and how it shaped Austin’s craft beer scene today!

Texas and its love of craft beer

Texas’ long and complicated history with alcohol

One wouldn’t think that Texas was historically a little stingy with their beer (I mean, have you heard any country music like, ever?), but for a long time Texas was at the forefront of the Prohibition movement in the early 20th century, and the remnants of this chaotic time still has ripple effects all over the state today.

Texas had strict liquor laws dating as far back as the 1840s just after the state gained independence from Mexico in 1836. Shortly afterward, the Prohibition movement started in the United States and, though an independent nation, religious fundamentalists in the Republic of Texas jumped on the idea and brought it to the attention of their government. 

Prohibition, in a nutshell, was centered around the idea that alcohol was to blame for the vast majority of immorality and social damage caused in society. In the minds of Prohibition supporters, the profits from beer, liquor and wine sales motivated companies to make more of their product and encourage people to drink more, thus causing the inevitable downfall of society. Removing the companies’ legal ability to profit from alcohol sales, production and consumption was their way of controlling society’s overall morality.

Texas joined the United States just a few years into the Prohibition era, but there was already enough support for the movement to make the newly formed state a leader in the fight for alcohol control. From the 1840s right through the 1890s, Texas Drys – as the reformers were called – fought to allow counties to make their own choices on laws and to enforce them as they saw fit. Smaller communities meant votes held more weight in local elections, and by 1895, 53 of the 239 counties had declared themselves completely dry. 

The Prohibition movement grew through the 1920s as significant figures took public stances on the Dry movement. Local politicians made their stance clear in elections, newspapers and publications and wrote about the movement from both perspectives, and religious groups and associations advocated for a state-wide Prohibition. 

In 1913, Texan senator Morris Shepard was elected to the United States Senate and proved to be a crucial player in the movement to enact the 18th Amendment, going into effect in 1918, that outlawed the manufacture, sale and transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the entire nation. Texas had its own state amendment just a year later in 1919, which finally gratified the dry movement’s desires for a liquor-free state. 

Their victory did not last long, however. The 18th Amendment was repealed with the 21st Amendment in 1930 after the Great Depression ravaged the nation’s economy, and Texas liquor laws defaulted to local-option statutes once more. Many counties elected to remain dry, while some worked toward being completely “wet.”

Texas liquor laws today

Prohibition ended over 90 years ago, but the vestiges of the strict liquor laws in Texas still remain in many parts of the state. 

Like, for example, the informally named Sunday Rule, which states that one cannot purchase beer or wine before 10 a.m. on Sundays and that liquor sales are altogether forbidden on the day. This isn’t one of those weird, outdated Texas laws either! It was amended in 2021 to change the time from noon to 10 a.m. on Sundays, so talk about progress!

As of just this past decade, there are only 55 out of the total 254 counties that are completely “wet” and six that are completely “dry.” The rest are considered mixed, which likely means that different towns, cities and municipalities in a single county have different stances on Texas liquor laws. That means different standards on where to sell alcohol, when to sell it, whether one can sell on-premises, off-premises, alongside food, et cetera, et cetera. 

This, understandably, makes it tricky to run a thriving business if you’re in the wine, beer or liquor industry. Without statewide standards, success in the alcohol trade is extremely geographically limited, and it’s why the craft beer industry in Texas had a slower start than, say, Colorado or Washington.

Why is Austin so popular for craft beer?

After all that, it’s not hard to see why the craft beer scene had a delayed arrival to Texas’s fine establishments. Austin, though, has experienced outstanding success in the past two decades, despite constrictive liquor laws. 

In the years between 1996 and 2008, only nine breweries and brewpubs opened in Austin, a trend that was almost immediately squashed with the 2008 economic crisis. After the Recession ended in 2010, Austin began to slowly recover financially and economically, bringing along with it a newfound love for craft beers. Why? Who knows? But that’s just how it went!

Between 2010 and 2016, 34 brand new breweries and brewpubs opened in Austin, and it’s been a mad dash ever since! 

Why, then, has Austin got so many breweries? Well, it’s down to supply and demand! It’s like having a really amazing fishing spot that, after word gets out, gets more and more visitors. In this case, us consumers are the fish, and the breweries are the bait and lures that are trying to get our attention. 

Simply put, there is so much competition here in Austin that for a brewery to really stand out, it absolutely has to be ready to go 100% pedal-to-the-metal from the get-go. That’s why there are so many unique breweries here that make for such memorable experiences!

The 55+ breweries and brewpubs here in Austin offer not just a wide range of locally brewed beers, but highly specialized pours and unique locations. 

The Brewtorium Brewery & Kitchen, for example, focuses on traditional German beers. Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden provides a quirky space and a wide range of local pours. Live Oak Brewing Company offers Old-World European-Style smoked beers, and Central Machine Works seduces its customers with a gorgeous setting inside a rustic airplane hangar. 

Whatever your drink preference (even if you’re more of a wine-type), there’s no denying that Austin has hit the mark in terms of breweries and brewpubs. Each brewery you visit is sure to be of top-notch quality, and it's sure to only get better in the future!


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Altnet

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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