Beer drinkers in Dallas-Fort Worth can expect to see crowlers more widely available this year after the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission signed an order this month allowing bars and retail shops to fill and sell them.
The order comes more than a year after Cuvee Coffee Bar in Austin contested the state's stance that filling crowlers was a manufacturing process reserved only for those businesses holding a manufacturer's permit, namely breweries.
A crowler is a 32-ounce aluminum can that is filled with beer from a draft tap and sealed on the spot. Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado invented the machine and several bars in North Texas operated them until 2015, when TABC deemed them illegal. Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee in Austin, purposely kept using his until TABC seized the machine. Thereafter, the subject was discussed in an administrative hearing.
Last November, a judge ruled in favor of McKim, saying the state's alcohol codes made no distinction between crowlers and growlers, which are glass or ceramic vessels also filled with beer from a tap but capped manually and considered legal. However, it was up to TABC to recognize that decision and amend its code accordingly.
On March 13, Sherry Cook signed an order stating Cuvee, in fact, did not violate the law by filling crowlers and that the vessels "could not be used as a canning process for sending beer into the stream of commerce."
"We're satisfied that both parties received a fair hearing in this case and will respect the results moving forward," TABC said in a statement.
"An alcohol retailer which possesses a 'crowler' machine and operates under a permit allowing them to sell malt beverage products to-go may use the machine as allowed under their permit," the statement said.
When reached by phone Wednesday, McKim was happy with the outcome of the case, but still had reservations about the victory.
"I'm glad that logic prevailed," he said. "I think the bigger question is why did they dig in their heels so much on this non-issue? And I think that's the bigger question that needs to be answered."
A notable amendment in the TABC code refers to where bars and stores buy their crowler machines from. They may not purchase the equipment from "members of the manufacturing tier," it states. "This means that any equipment or machines sold to a retailer must originate from a third-party company with no financial interest in a brewery, distillery or winery," the statement says.
According to Chris Porter, public information officer for TABC, this would not affect businesses that already own crowler machines.
"We're not taking any actions against those folks," he said. "The offense would be on the manufacturer's part."