Austin's Jester King Craft Brewery Sues the TABC, But Is the TABC Really the Bad Guy?
Jester King, based in Austin, is one of the state's most popular craft breweries. The TABC (or Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission), also based in Austin, is one of the state's most powerful agencies. And with news that Jester King has just filed a lawsuit against the TABC, our capital could soon become a boxing ring for the ultimate beer battle as the little guys finally take on Big Government.
Shit just got real.
"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," wrote Jester King on its website yesterday. "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."
The brewery went on to state: "Under the bizarre, antiquated naming system mandated by the TABC Code, we have to call everything we brew over 4% alcohol by weight (ABW) 'Ale' or 'Malt Liquor' and everything we brew at or below 4% ABW 'beer.' This results in nonsensical and somewhat comical situations where we have to call pale ale at or below 4% ABW 'pale beer' and lager that is over 4% ABW 'ale.'"
Jester King -- like other breweries in Texas -- also takes issue with the fact that wineries are allowed to sell their product to the public at their facilities, while breweries aren't. It's the same issue that was brought to the State's attention earlier this year with proposed House Bills 660 and 602, although neither bill passed the Legislature.
The lawsuit itself takes TABC to the woodshed for its bureaucratic dysfunction in a beautifully written argument on page five of the Motion for Summary Judgment:
When questioned at its Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, the TABC could identify no substantial government interest that is advanced by preventing breweries from telling customers where their beer can be bought. The TABC agrees that the ban does not "promote the welfare, health, peace, temperance or safety of the people of Texas," that it does not "promote legal and responsible alcohol consumption," and that it does not "ensure fair competition with the alcohol beverage industry.'' The only government interest the TABC could articulate was to "[e]nsure consistent, predictable and timely enforcement of" the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. The TABC frankly recognized that its rationale - "It's the law, and that's the end of it" - circular reasoning that justifies enforcing the Code simply because it is the Code.
Public excitement over the lawsuit ran high, with craft beer fans taking to Twitter in joyous bleets: "This is HUGE," wrote Bill Norris, beverage director at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse. "I hope they win!" added Jodi Bart, an Austin-based food blogger.
But just like the excitement over HB 602 and HB 660, craft beer supporters could be in for more disappointment in the long run.