Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Landmark Decision in Texas Beer: Jester King vs. TABC

Public Enemy #1 for Texas Beer Geeks
It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but Texas alcohol laws are slightly out-of-date and, in many cases, absolute bollocks. Shocking news to all, I'm sure.

Case in point: in Texas, it has been against state code that any beer over 4% ABW (~5.1% ABV) must labeled as an "ale," even if it is a lager. Furthermore, the term "beer" is reserved for those beers 4% ABW and under.

Therefore, as a brewer, you'd have to call your new Imperial Pilsener an "ale" on the label if you plan to sell it on shelves in the Lone Star State. Also, your new your 7% ABV IPA could not have the word "beer" anywhere on the label. A real pain in the neck for brewers, and one that has resulted in many beers not making it to Texas and many labels having to be redesigned for compliance with Texas state code, not to mention plenty of confusion for Texas consumers.

Another great little restriction is the law stating that breweries cannot tell consumers where to find their products in Texas. Check out the Dogfish Head "fish finder" to see a great example.

The much maligned Texas Alcoholic beverage Commission (TABC) is responsible for these restrictions (and others like them), making it public enemy number one for many Texas beer fans. Until today.
Instant Texas Beer Folk Heroes
You see, a scrappy upstart brewery from Austin, Jester King, decided they'd like to call their beers what  they are on their labels, and maybe even tell their fans where to find their beers. They filed a suit against TABC earlier this year claiming the restrictions above (along with some others) were unconstitutional. Yesterday, Judge Sam Sparks ruled in favor of many of Jester King's claims in a landmark decision.

Here are the key outcomes of the case, as Scott Metzger from Freetail brewing reported on his blog Brewed and Never Battered:
  • TABC cannot prohibit you from telling customers or advertising where they can buy your products.    
  • TABC cannot require you to label your products by their definition of “beer” and “ale.”  
  • TABC cannot prohibit you from advertising the strength of your products by prohibiting words like “strong”, “prewar strength”, “full strength”, etc.
All of this should help more beers make it to Texas and speed up the approval process for new beers to the market.

It's not all sunshine and lollipops though, as Judge Sparks upheld the law banning sales of beer at a brewery and the fact that out of state and foreign breweries still have to get costly licenses every two years. Not surprising, really. These are our next battles, fellow Texan beer geeks. Onward, to victory!

Read more about the ruling on Jester King's site or at Brewed and Never Battered.