Monday, August 29, 2016

An Update on Texas Beer Related lawsuits

Last week some HUGE news came out of the Texas legal system that made it seem like a good time to review some of the current lawsuits that are working their way through the courts.  But before I get to that, let's get to what happened last week, and to do that, we need to go all the way back to the Spring of 2013. That was the first session that Open The Taps was around, so I remember those days clearly as the organization worked along with the Texas Craft Brewers guild, legislatures, and distributors.  On the positive side several bills were passed that had hugely positive effects on the industry.  Some of the highlights from those bills include SB518 allowing breweries to sell beer directly to consumers for on premise consumption (this is why we have tap room sales at St. Arnold), and SB515 that allows brewpubs to distribute their products (this is why Freetail is available at places like Nobi).  However, there was one bill that very few people wanted, but we were forced to support to get the bills passed we wanted.  That bill was SB 639 which restricts breweries from selling their territorial rights.  What does this mean? It means a brewery can't enter into a monetary agreement with a distributor to sell their beer.  It means a brewery can start out, building their brand, investing a ton of money, develop relationships with consumers, bars, restaurants, and retail places, and then once they feel like they need some help distributing, they can't make money off of that hard work.  Now some may ask, why oh why did anyone want this bill, and why was it signed as law back in 2013.  Well, that answer is relatively easy, the Austin legislature, the people that you voted for and put in office, are bought and paid for by large beer distribution companies (go look at which legislatures receive money from the big beer distributors).  This bill was put forth to appease the distributors who would have otherwise used their influence to stop the positive bills from passing.  So folks held their tongues and didn't fight back against SB639 so that the other bills could pass.  However, almost as soon as the bill passed, Texas Craft Breweries, started talking about a lawsuit because I think most everyone realized that what the legislation passed wasn't legal.  Which brings us back to the current day.
Last week, State District Judge Karin Crump ruled in favor of Live Oak Brewing, Revolver and Peticolas in their lawsuit that argues the 2013 state law unfairly hinders their ability to grow their business. This will now allow breweries to enter into monetary agreements with distributors, no longer having to give away their biggest asset. This will allow for greater growth within the Texas Craft beer industry as it gives them better access to capital, and maybe, just maybe help stave off more buyouts from big breweries like AB-InBev.  TABC can still appeal this decision, so all is not won yet, but I'm hoping that they don't, and that we can move on to working bigger and better things. Maybe just maybe this next session will legalize to-go sales at breweries.
Its unfortunate that issues like this have to be solved in the courts because we can't trust our legislatures to pass common sense laws. Make no mistake, there are more cases like this in the works. Your tax payer money will be used fighting lawsuits because your legislatures are bought. So let's take a look at some of the upcoming cases that should be resolved in the next couple of months:
1) Dallas's Deep Ellum Brewing has sued TABC to allow the aforementioned to-go sales. Currently, wineries, distilleries and brewpubs can all sale their products to go, however it is illegal for breweries to do so. This was something that was attempted to get through the legislature back in 2011, and 2013 (as well as many times before that) to no avail. Therefore Deep Ellum is doing the only thing they can, take it through the legal system.
2) Cuvee Coffee has sued TABC over the issue of whether retailers can sell Crowlers. For those that are unaware, Crowlers are like growlers, except they are cans, sealed at the site you fill them, and are single use, where as growlers can be re-used for ever. TABC came out and stopped bars, stores, etc from using Crowlers, because they consider them as re-canning beer which only a manufacturer can do. Cuvee Coffee was one of the first places doing Crowlers in Texas and they were also one of the first places that TABC went after. Currently the only places that can do Crowlers are licensed brewpubs and then only of the beer they produce on site.

Hoping to hear good news regarding both of these lawsuits in the next month or two.

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