A ruling came down from the Federal Courthouse in Austin on Monday that will change the way that beer is sold in Texas in a few crucial ways; all of it dealing with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (and code), also known as the TABC. Founder and owner of Freetail Brewing, a brewpub in San Antonio, Scott Metzger explains on his blog, Brewed And Never Battered that starting today:
1. TABC cannot prohibit you from telling customers or advertising where they can buy your products.
2. TABC cannot require you to label your products by their definition of "beer" and "ale."
3. TABC cannot prohibit you from advertising the strength of your products by prohibiting words like "strong," "prewar strength," "full strength," etc.
Co-plaintiffs distribution company Authentic Beverages, Jester King Brewery and Austin restaurant Zax filed a motion back in October claiming that certain provisions of the state's alcoholic beverage code violated their First Amendment rights to free speech (labeling laws) and their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection (beer producers face a lot more restrictions than wineries).
Judge Sam Sparks emerged as a bit of a hero, granting the plaintiffs the above victories based on their right to free speech with such charming quotes as "This court would never be so foolish as to question the sincerity of Texans' interest in beer." However, the motion to grant breweries the ability to sell their beer directly to the public was rejected.
Rassul Zarinfar of up-and-coming microbrewery Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. was elated to hear the news.
The first thing people ask is 'Where can I get your beer?' We're not huge like Miller Light, which has their kegs everywhere. Customers have to seek us out. They want to know where to find us and now we're able to help them do that.
Things appear a little differently to Brock Wagner at Saint Arnold Brewing Company, on the other hand.
We are happy to see the silly definitions of 'beer' and 'ale' that the TABC unilaterally and nonsensically came up with be struck down. That has never made sense. That is really the only good news for us. The meat of the lawsuit from our perspective was denied, namely the part that said allowing wineries to retail and not giving breweries the same right is discriminatory. [...] There is a hidden expense to this lawsuit for all Texas breweries. The TABC is now going to have to come up with a new way of differentiating between beers that are above and below 4% alcohol by weight [...] There are some retail licenses in the state that only allow the sale of beers below 4% ABW. In fact there are some counties and precincts that only allow beers under 4%. This part of the law is quite legal. Once the TABC comes up with its method for signifying these categories, we will have to change all of our labels. This is not an enormous expense, but will probably cost us at least a few thousand dollars. All Texas breweries are going to incur a similar expense.