Bars in Dallas-Fort Worth may soon be selling crowlers again after a judge ruled they were legal to fill, sell and label without maintaining a manufacturer's permit.
The decision comes after the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission cited Cuvee Coffee Bar in Austin for a violation claiming that filling and sealing 32-ounce aluminum can growlers, known as crowlers, with draft beer to-go was a process reserved solely for breweries and brewpubs that actually brew it.
TABC seized Cuvee's crowler machine in August 2015 and hoped to fine the business $32,000. Cuvee holds a BG permit (sales for consumption on- and off-premise) and also fills growlers, glass or ceramic vessels for customers to take beer to-go. Those are not illegal, according to TABC.
Judge John Beeler, who submitted the decision, disagreed with TABC's interpretation of the law, however, because it makes no explicit distinction between crowlers and growlers. TABC's argument was based on the fact growlers have a resealable, screw-on cap and crowlers are sealed with a "permanent" pop-top lid, like a regular can of beer.
But the term "seal" isn't defined in TABC's code, the decision notes, which essentially voids the commission's argument.
"TABC witnesses agreed that beer could be sold to customers in just about anything except crowlers," the decision reads. "The sale of beer in buckets, mayonnaise jars, or even tennis ball cans, for off-premise consumption is permitted."
"It appears disingenuous for staff to assert crowlers are dangerous to the public, unless they are sold at brewpubs," it continues.
Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee Coffee Bar, announced the judge had ruled in favor of crowlers at Martin House Brewing Co. in Fort Worth Monday night to resounding applause.
"What I learned during this process is that the alcohol codes, the way they're written now, they're full of nothing but grey area and open to interpretation," McKim said by phone Tuesday. "There's no consistency and the courts are obviously understanding that."
It's unclear when local businesses will be permitted to begin selling the can growlers again. Chris Porter, public information officer for TABC, said the commission will continue to enforce the provisions of its alcohol code until the case is officially closed (and that could take a while according this list of processes). Porter said by email TABC is still reviewing the judge's proposal and evaluating whether or not to file an exception before the Dec. 2 deadline.
In light of last year's litigation, several bars in North Texas were forced to remove their crowler machines, including What's on Tap in Highland Village. But owner Bradley Trapnell is anxiously awaiting the green light from TABC -- crowlers continually outpaced growler sales during the six weeks he was able to use the machine. After the ban, Trapnell received offers to purchase the crowler machine, but he held out in hopes the case would swing in his favor.
"People just really like the crowler for reasons I can't explain," he says. "It has a real coolness factor to it."
Crowlers are also lauded as superior to growlers because the aluminum blocks more light, keeps beer fresher longer and is recyclable. Rick Ali, co-owner of Lone Star Taps and Caps network of bars, was the first retailer in the country to have a crowler machine at his Lewisville location. He is thrilled about the ruling and believes consumers will be too.
"People have been missing them for a long time," Ali says. "Who doesn't want to have a Velvet Hammer 32-ounce can waiting in the fridge?"
Ali is hoping the law changes sooner rather than later. McKim at Cuvee says he already lobbying legislation that could amend the TABC code come next year's session. But for now, both owners are in a holding pattern.
"We have our machine all cleaned up and ready to go," Ali says. "We're excited, but we'll temper our excitement for now."