It was slightly overcast at the Jester King brewery outside of Austin on Saturday, there was a band playing on the porch, people playing cornhole on the lawn, and of course since Jester King is a brewery, there were plenty of suds.
However it wasn’t a normal Saturday for a group of some-two-hundred people in a roped-off section of the grounds, for them, Saturday was Zwanze Day.
For those who are not obsessive beer nerds, Zwanze Day is the one day per year when Brasserie Cantillon, located in Brussels, Belgium, simultaneously releases a special beer at various locations around the world. One of which happens to be Jester King. Jeff Stuffings is the Founder and owner of the brewery…
“[It’s] their special beer, where they kind of depart from that traditional process of Lambic and Gueuze and Kriek and Framboise to do an experimental creation”, Stuffings said, “and every year it has a different inspiration and philosophy.”
Brasserie Cantillon, is known by many beer-enthusiasts as a rarity, especially by fans of the brewery in Texas, where it’s not normally distributed. That’s why over 2,500 people signed up for a ticket lottery, in early September, which merely gave them a chance to buy a ticket.
Brad Ward from Plano, Texas, has attempted to win tickets to the event for the last couple years to no avail, so he enlisted the help of a friend. Ward said he emailed and texted all of his friends, saying if they got chosen , he would pay for their ticket.
“My buddy got chosen and I’m paying for his ticket,” said Ward, “but I’m so glad to be here.”
Although everyone was having a great time drinking hard-to-attain Belgian beers, Zwanze Day also serves another purpose – Fundraising money for the Legislative team of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
According to Jeff Stuffings, “every penny made after cost, will be donated to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild to try to affect beer reform change in Texas.”
On their website – the guild exists for the purpose of promoting Texas craft beer, educating the public on craft beer, and advancing the common interest of Texas craft brewers.
As it stands, it is hard for breweries like Cantillon to come to Texas because of high licensing fees that are required by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission or TABC. A two-year license for a brewery can cost between four and seven thousand dollars, which is a hard cost to pay for most small, artisan brewer.
According to Stuffings, it is also hard for breweries based in the State to sell their own brews. Jester King can get away with selling their beer on-site because they’re technically considered a Brew-pub, but that’s not the story for some other well-known breweries in the state.
It’s also a problem Texas wineries and distilleries don’t necessarily have to face…
“You can go to a Texas Distillery and buy distilled spirits to-go. A Texas winery and buy wine to-go. Go to a Texas brewery, you’re out of luck, it’s illegal”, Stuffings said, adding craft breweries are trying to level the playing field with the rest of the alcohol industry in the state.
Stuffings thinks it has to do with how the number of breweries in the US dropped dramatically after prohibition ended.
According to Stuffings When the number of breweries in the United States ropped from a lot o a little, beer became very centralized, Stuffings said, “[the] three-tiered system kind of put a lot of power into the middle tier, the distributors.”
The Three-tiered distribution model used not only in Texas but throughout the U.S. is also seen as a problem by some in the craft brewing community. After prohibition was repealed, the system that goes from producers to distributors to retailers has become the status quo.
Stuffings said distributors are, still wanting to believe it’s like the nineteen-seventies where not many people cared about interesting and innovative beer, adding that craft breweries just want the law to change with the times.
No matter whether the legislative team of the Texas Craft Brewers guild is immediately successful, Stuffings says Jester King will continue to raise money for the reform of state beer laws and for now, Zwanze Day isn’t going anywhere.