Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Judge in Texas brewery lawsuit finds TABC codes to be unconstitutional
Breweries can now call a beer a beer.
Texas' craft beer industry just got some great news in the lawsuit against the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission filed by Austin brewery Jester King: On Monday afternoon, Judge Sam Sparks ruled in Jester King's favor, finding as unconstitutional the codes that allow the TABC to 1. prohibit a Texas brewer from advertising where its beer is sold, and 2. describe it accurately as beer or ale, as a violation of the First Amendment.
The codes in question are Sec. 108.01(a)(4) of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code; and Texas Administrative Code Title 16, Sec 45.77, 45.79(f), 45.90, & 45.110(c)(3).
These sections of the code specify what a label can and cannot say. From Jester King:
As of result of yesterday’s ruling, beer in Texas may now be labeled as “beer” and ale may now be labeled as “ale”, regardless of alcohol content. Breweries and distributors are also no longer prohibited from independently telling consumers where their products may be purchased, or from communicating truthful and accurate information about their alcohol content. That means Jester King will now be able to add a “Where to Buy” section to our website, as will all other breweries selling beer in Texas.
The craft beer industry in Texas has been hampered by an old-school pre-Prohibition mindset -- one that basically forced brewers to use incorrect descriptions and forbade them to tell the public where their beer was sold. Craft beer advocates tried to change these laws in 2011 but the Texas legislature succumbed to pressure from the big beer lobbyists who want to preserve the profitable status quo. Jester King Brewery and co-plaintiffs Authentic Beverage Company and Zax Restaurant & Bar filed the lawsuit in December.
It wasn't all a win: Judge Sparks did not overrule the TABC's ability to prohibit craft brewers from selling beer to customers on-site, even though wineries are allowed to do that. But the wineries have a bigger pre$ence than beer makers. Back to Jester King:
We’re pleased to have helped to bring about at least a few long overdue changes in the antiquated and often inconsistent Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, but small brewers still face many unjust and unnecessary obstacles that need to be removed before we can stand on equal footing with Texas winemakers and brewers in other states. ... Measurable progress was made with yesterday’s decision, but much more is still needed.
Those who are interested in keeping up with the struggles of Texas' craft brew scene against the big crappy beer companies can give a "like" to grass-roots organization Open The Taps.