As quickly as crowlers rose to popularity, they're being lambasted by the law.
The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission recently ordered Austin's Cuvee Coffee Bar to immediately remove its crowler machine, which seals 32-ounce cans with draft beer to-go, because the coffee shop does not hold a brewpub license. TABC spokesman Chris Porter told Austin360 that because "canning is looked at as a manufacturing process" under the law, retailers are not permitted to use or sell crowlers.
But Kevin Afghani, owner of Dallas beer bar Craft and Growler, doesn't see it that way.
Afghani, who is also a lawyer, is fighting TABC's interpretation of the law alongside Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee Coffee Bar, and Oskar Blues Brewery, the Colorado establishment that invented the crowler.
In a recent memo sent to TABC and obtained by GuideLive, Afghani argues that crowlers are legally permissible because the commission fails to define how retailers holding a BG permit (sales for consumption on- and off-premise) may package beer. Further, he argues that crowlers and growlers are viewed as equal by formal definition under Texas law. The commission has taken no action against banning retailers from selling growlers.
If this sounds a bit jargon-y, that's because it is. Craft beer advocates argue TABC's interpretation of the law is nuanced at best.
When TABC approached Cuvee about removing the machine, the officer "couldn't give me a good answer about the difference between serving a 'growler' versus a 'crowler,'" McKim told Austin360.
Oskar Blues is currently coordinating a rule-making petition, which would clarify that a growler is any container filled at the time of sale, says Jeremy Rudolf, product manager with Oskar Blues.
"We've come to learn there's not a specific rule or term or definition according to TABC about what a growler is," Rudolf says. "Most people know it as a piece of glass, when it can really be made out of any material."
Beer nerds tout the crowler as more easily transportable than the growler and say it keeps the beer fresh longer because of lack of exposure to light and oxygen. And because crowlers are one-time use cans, there's less risk for beer contamination than in a glass growler. The machine itself costs $3,000, says Rudolf.
Here's how it works:
Afghani, who was planning to install a crowler machine in his bar this summer, expects TABC to take action with all North Texas operations that own one. (This may not effect Noble Rey Brewing Co. or Collective Brewing Project, as they hold brewpub licenses.) Needless to say, Craft and Growler's plans have been put on hold.
[UPDATE August 4 at 1:03 p.m.: On July 30, TABC mandated that Lone Star Taps and Caps in Lewisville, which was the first U.S. retailer to own a crowler machine, to cease selling crowlers, confirmed co-owner Rick Ali. What's on Tap in Highland Village was also contacted by TABC and told to discontinue selling crowlers, said owner Bradley Trapnell.]
Whole Foods Park Lane also sells crowlers, but so far has offered no comment to GuideLive about whether or not the company has been in touch with the commission.
Rudolf says there are currently a dozen crowler machines in Texas and Oskar Blues is working to bring them to several other locations statewide. The brewery may ask for a stay in enforcement of the law while the petition is being devised, he adds.
Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct the name of Cuvee Coffee Bar owner Mike McKim.