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Brewers win one in court

From CultureMap:

A small but significant victory was had for craft beermakers and drinkers Monday when a federal judge ruled (partially) in favor of Austin’s Jester King Brewery in a lawsuit against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Jester King filed a motion for summary judgement in Federal court in October over what it deemed to be violations of both its First and 14th Amendment rights.

Its First Amendment right to free speech, Jester King argued (along with two co-plaintiffs — a distribution company and an Austin restaurant) was violated by the TABC’s oft-criticized demand that any beer stronger than 4 percent be labeled as ale and anything with less than 4 percent alcohol by weight be labeled beer. The celebrated craft brewery argued that misusing technical terms as shorthand for alcoholic strength ignored hundreds of years of beer-making tradition and, in effect, misrepresented its brews and brewing processes to the public.

Jester King also claimed its 14th Amendment right to equal protection is obstructed by Texas’ three-tier system, which mandates that breweries (which produce beer on-site and distribute it to consumers) may not sell their wares on site while brewpubs (which produce and sell on-site) may not distribute it to consumers.

Here’s some background and analysis of the ruling, along with the wit and wisdom of Judge Sam Sparks, courtesy of Freetail’s Brewed And Never Battered blog. Briefly, this is what the ruling means:

To summarize, the ruling has the following effects:

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

There’s more to it than that, so go read all the links. The bits about how the TABC was essentially unable to justify its regulations was fascinating, and I hope inspiring to the next Legislature. That will be necessary, because the ruling did not strike down the regulations that forbid breweries to sell their wares directly to visitors even though wineries can do so. Keep pestering your State Rep and State Senator about this, because in the end it’s their job to make this happen. Plaintiff Jester King, I Love Beer, and Beer, TX have more.

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