Written by Eric Braun for mysanantonio.com
Perhaps the most nonsensical of all the Texas beer rules and regulations — although there are plenty to go around — is the rule that dictates what a beer is called based on whether or not it’s above or below 5% in ABV (alcohol by volume). That rule was struck down by Judge Sam Sparks in a ruling yesterday. He also struck down the rule against producers being able to tell customer where to find their beers.
If you’ve ever noticed a label that read ‘Beer in TX,’ it was likely an ale that couldn’t be called an ale because it was under 5%. Meanwhile, lagers over 5% had to be called an ale or malt liquor. As beer lovers know, ales and lagers are the two main different types of beer and the difference isn’t ABV.
This was based on a lawsuit filed by Austin’s Jester King Brewing and others a few months ago which I wrote about here. Essentially, Judge Sparks found that the labeling rules and the rules against beer manufacturers being able to tell consumer where to find their beer to purchase were both unconstitutional according to the guarantees of the first amendment. So those rules will go away assuming there are no successful appeals or other funny business.
Unfortunately, the judge ruled against using the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to cancel out the regulations wherein brew pubs can’t sell outside of their buildings and breweries can’t sell inside their buildings. That might have been wishful thinking, but it was worth a shot.
The end result is that you’ll be able to find your state microbrewers’ beers more easily. Out of state brewers will have an easier time getting their labels approved by the TABC, which should in turn increase variety on our store shelves.
The judgment itself is pretty hilarious. Including this zinger from Judge Sparks, “TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restriction on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word “milk” to mean “a nocturnal flying mammal that eats insects and employs echolocation.” Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized not only to prohibit use of the word “milk” by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual “Milk Festival” on the Congress Avenue bridge. Regardless of one’s feelings about milk or bats, this result is inconsistent with the guarantees of the First Amendment.”
You can read the whole thing here.
Just to put this in the grand scheme of things. There’s been a lot of talk this year about how some court rulings, and even presidential candidates, suggesting that corporations are people. Well, cases like this are what they are talking about. If corporations didn’t have the right to free speech, this ruling wouldn’t have happened. So while it’s one of those things that sound crazy on the surface, there is a reason why they are afforded some of the same rights as people. And no, I’m not endorsing any particular candidate or judge, just giving you something to say next time your buddies spout off at the bar about corporations being people. Like most things, it’s more complicated than it seems.