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.