Finally A Lawsuit That Is Good For Craft Beer

It seems like just a couple months ago when we were inundated with legal actions within the world of craft beer that just served to weaken companies that were responsible for the craft beer movement.  We were “eating our young” as it were with craft beer companies suing each other over beer names, employees, labels, you name it, it seems like finally someone is taking the bull by the horns and doing something good for craft beer through the legal system.

Attorneys for Jester King Brewery in the hill country outside Austin Texas filed a motion for summary judgement in Federal court asking that a suit they filed against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).  Basically their suit alleges that they are having their constitutional rights violated by TABC policies that are very restrictive on what can be said about any certain beer, and that people who sell wine have an undue advantage because they don’t have these and other restrictions in place.  For you constitutional scholars out there that would be a violation of the 1st and 14th amendments  which are the right to free speech, and the right to equal protection under the law.

Since they have paid a lot of high price attorneys to file this case for them, I will let you read their words instead of the ramblings of a blogging idiot.  In their words:

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% 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”. The State has arrogantly and autocratically cast aside centuries of rich brewing tradition by taking it upon itself to redefine terms that reference flavor and production method as a simple shorthand for alcoholic strength.

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 Ale 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. We are simply seeking to exercise free and truthful speech about the beer we make and strongly believe that the State has no interest in keeping you from knowing the type of beer we make, how strong it is, or where it is sold.

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.” Brewpubs are faced with an equal and opposite restriction. They can sell beer on-site, but cannot sell beer through a retailer or distributor. Texas wineries on the other hand are allowed to sell on-site and through retailers and distributors. We are suing because the State has no rational interest in maintaining special restrictions aimed at limiting the sale of beer.

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.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  So I guess that is the long way of saying that they have to lie on their labels and can’t say what they want, and the winos get everything and the beer geeks are treated to the back seats on the bus.  Seems like very sound arguments, and ones that I hope prevail in court.

What are your thoughts?  Is there such a thing as a GOOD lawsuit?  Let us know in the comments.


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21 Comments on “Finally A Lawsuit That Is Good For Craft Beer”

  1. johnking82
    October 31, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    I saw this last week. One of my good friends went to college (go Irish!) with one of the owners and I’ve emailed back and forth a few times concerning Kentucky barrels, etc. Really nice guy, I’ve been watching their progress via their blog since the frames went up. I wish them luck. Insert bear-related comment.

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      Seems like a good lawsuit if ever there was such a thing. I know Texas has had a durth of good craft beer too, so this might help open up things too.

  2. October 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    I hope that at the very least it raises awareness of how messed up the system is for craft brewers… the majority of people think breweries can sell their beer easily not knowing what they have to go through in a legal sense.

    We are so involved in craft beer and like to think that many have seen the documentary Beer Wars, but truth is, most people don’t even know it exists. Heck, my friends ask me when are they going to see my home brew at the store… ha!.. yeah right…

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      True Jorge, every state has different laws regarding labeling, alcohol content, distribution, etc. It is a mess. It worked ok when we had choices of 3 or 5 different breweries, but now that there are literally thousands these laws are antiquated and overly restrictive!

  3. October 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm #


    Not surprisingly, I’m opposed to restrictions on labeling and advertising of beer. I wish them well.
    Next the TTB needs to be taken to task for the very same thing. Can’t label a Strong Dark a Strong Dark because you can’t put the word “Strong” on a label. It’s just silly. Prohibition is over. I’m pretty sure it’s been over long enough for the government to get accustomed to it.

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      Let’s hope so!

  4. October 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    One of Jester King’s founder is an attorney, so that likely softens their legal investment some. Hoping them nothing but success, but because of how things normally go, I’m not too optimistic.

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

      I agree Scooter, you never know what you will come up against when you enter a legal fray. Logic is usually the first casualty!

  5. October 31, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Messing with Texas seems to be a great idea in this case. Now I’m thirsty for some “Pale Beer.”

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      I guess I was thinking that it was the brewery that was being messed with! They need to kick some TBAC booty!

  6. October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    On my recent trip down to Texas, I noticed that craft beer is beginning to gain a foothold down there. Rahr. 512. Live Oak. Real Ale. Franconia. Independence. Jester King. Southern Star. Yeah, buddy, they are doing it and doing it well. It’s only a matter of time that Texas’ antiquated liquor laws go the way of the buffalo. Fight on, Jester King!

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      I agree, if ever a lawsuit was well founded, I think this one is. Even if it fails, this might just be the first go around. Hopefully that independent Texas spirit will show through and these laws will be seen for what they are, overly restrictive and archaic.

  7. October 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I’ve read that some of the crazy beer laws in Texas were designed or kept on the books to protect their native lagers Lone Star and Pearl. Oddly, both brands were picked up by Pabst. So, they aren’t really native anymore. Now those laws are hurting the truly native Texas beers, the craft beers.

    And the laws are crazy. In most places false advertising is illegal. But apparently if you’re a brewery in Texas it’s mandatory to lie on your label. So bizarre.

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      It is bizarre, and hopefully they will pick up on the fact that they are hurting state owned and operated businesses so they will just fix the problem, instead of falling on their sword to keep archaic legislation!

  8. Matthew
    October 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I’m not much of a scholar of American legal history, but I’d say Brown vs Board of Education was a pretty important lawsuit.

    • Don
      October 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

      Sure, but I’m not sure how that impacted Craft Beer? Maybe the integration put future brewers into a collaborative mindset, leading to many great collaborative beers? OK, I get it. 😉

  9. Zac
    November 1, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Glad I don’t live in Texas. I will definitely forward this to some Texas friends. Keep up the good work Don!

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks, Zac. 🙂

  10. November 1, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    Yes, we are far too litigious. But the courts were established for good reason and serve a necessary purpose.

    In this case the problem is not litigiousness but rather that there are way too many government restrictions–period! Surely, the great state of TX has better things to do with its time than determine what should be called a beer and what an ale. If a company lies on its label or purposely produces a harmful product, then it should be dealt with. Elsewise, leave it alone to do business.

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      Agreed, Wayne! However in this instance the beer company is having to lie on its labels because of the law, which is quite upside down don’t you think?

      • November 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

        Agreed Don! (chuckle!)

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