CraftBeer.com Exclusive: Inside Jester King’s Lawsuit Against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage CommissionDecember 6, 2011
Jester King Craft Brewery, which opened to the public in January 2011, is one of the newest additions to the Austin craft beer scene, but they are already making a big impact. In a recent news post submitted to CraftBeer.com, the brewery announced that they had filed suit against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Here’s an excerpt from the original post, “Jester King Craft Brewery Sues Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Over Beer and Consumer Freedom” explaining the brewery’s actions.
We have sued the TABC because we believe that its Code violates our rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Under the Code, we are not allowed to tell the beer-drinking public where our beer is sold. We are also not permitted to use accurate terms to describe our beers. We are often forced to choose either to label them inaccurately or not to make beers that we would like to brew. Under the bizarre, antiquated naming system mandated by the TABC Code, we have to call everything we brew over 4 percent alcohol by weight (ABW) “Ale” or “Malt Liquor” and everything we brew at or below 4 percent ABW “beer.”
At the same time, the State prohibits breweries from using other terms that accurately reference alcoholic strength like “strong” or “low alcohol.” That means you will not be seeing any Belgian or American Strong Ales in Texas. Further, the State restricts the context in which we can communicate the actual alcohol content of our beers. We are not allowed to put the alcoholic content on anything the State considers advertising, which includes our website and social media.
Our claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, maintains that breweries, like wineries, should be able to sell their products directly to the public. Right now in Texas, we cannot sell our beer at our brewery. We can only sell beer through a retailer or distributor. When people visit Jester King and ask to buy our beer, we have to tell them, “Sorry, that’s illegal.”
Finally, the lawsuit challenges the State’s requirement that every foreign brewery wishing to sell beer in Texas obtain its own separate license. Foreign wineries and distilleries are not burdened by this requirement. They may simply sell their products in Texas through an importer that has one license for all the wine and spirits it brings into our state. The result is that small, artisan beer makers often have their beer kept out of Texas by unduly burdensome fees.
After learning about the suit, I went to their team for a few more details. Here’s my interview with Ron Extract of Jester King.
Meghan Storey (MS): If you’re successful, how will your business change? What will it mean for craft beer and craft beer fans in Texas?
Ron Extract (RE): The freedom to label products correctly and tell consumers where they can find them, and to operate brewery taps and bottle shops would give Texas breweries and brewpubs the same competitive opportunities that both Texas wineries and breweries in many other states already have, but that we’re being denied under the current state code. If these restrictions, as well as the economic barriers to trade that currently keep a lot of smaller out-of-state and foreign breweries out of the market were removed, I have absolutely no doubt that the Texas craft beer scene would quickly come to rival that of any other state in the country.
(MS): What sort of timeline are you facing?
(RE): Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment, which are currently being reviewed by the federal judge who’s presiding over the case. Depending on what happens there, there may or may not be a need to go to trial, and until we know the specifics of the rulings, we can’t really say what would happen after that.
(MS): Why do you think that wineries are treated so differently in Texas?
(RE): There were a number of relatively recent legislative changes that eased the restrictions on state wineries. I’m sure the wineries did a great job organizing and lobbying to make this happen, but I’m also not sure that they faced quite the same opposition that Texas craft brewers have faced in trying to enact parallel change. The beer distribution lobbies are very powerful in this state, and for the most part, they have stood in strong opposition to any kind of change.
There may also be an extent to which the perception of breweries as large industrial factories, and of wineries as small mom and pop-type agricultural operations may have fed into some of the differences in treatment under the law, but I doubt that this sort of categorical distinction was ever really valid, and certainly don’t think it’s valid today.
(MS): Is there anything Texas citizens can do to help?
(RE): We strongly encourage anyone who might be reading this to lend their support to Open the Taps, a grassroots consumer organization committed to modernizing Texas beer laws to improve consumer choice and create a more competitive atmosphere for both in-state and out-of state craft brewers.
Other than that, if you happen to see and feel like buying some of our beer when you find yourself out and about, or want to order some merchandise through our web shop, that’s also cool.
Meghan Storey, the Brewers Association’s Web Editor, has been lucky enough to work in the world of craft beer for the past three years. She holds a degree in Print Journalism from the University of Mississippi, and has recently relocated to Nashville, TN. She loves to introduce friends to new craft beers and food pairings. Since beginning work on CraftBeer.com she can be found adding beer to just about everything she cooks.
Company: Jester King Craft Brewery