Crowler? Growler? Austin beer battle heads to court

Cuvee Coffee Bar’s crowler crusade appears to be heading for court.

The East Austin business ran afoul of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in September, when investigators confiscated a crowler machine used to seal aluminum cans of tap beer for offsite consumption.

The crowler is a variation on the growler – glass, stainless steel or ceramic containers many businesses use to sell beer for offsite consumption.

TABC says Cuvee, owned by Mike and Rashelle McKim, didn’t have the proper permit to use its tabletop canning machine and cited the business for “unauthorized manufacturing” – even though Cuvee claims it “does not manufacture or brew beer.”

In a lawsuit filed in Travis County’s 345th District Court, Cuvee says TABC’s search of the business and the subsequent seizure of the crowler machine, crowler cans and other items were “warrantless” and “unlawful.”

Cuvee wants the crowler machine back, but it’s not stopping there. The business is also asking a judge to invalidate TABC’s “arbitrary” rules governing the use of crowler machines.

A TABC spokesman told the American-Statesman the agency was aware of the lawsuit but does not comment on pending litigation.

“Section 25.01 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code authorizes Cuvee, and similarly licensed retailers, to sell beer for off-premise consumption,” the suit contends. “Section 25.01 does not address the types of containers in which beer may be sold to-go, let alone how they should or should not be sealed.”

TABC has “historically” defined growlers as being made of glass, stainless steel or ceramic, the suit says, but “the code does not define the term ‘growler.’ ”

“The TABC has not, until recently, attempted to define the term either,” Cuvee claims in the lawsuit.

The definition TABC has settled upon is at odds with the definition used by many in the beer industry, according to the suit.

“The advent of the crowler machine allows for the use of an aluminum growler,” the suit says. “In fact, the inventors of the crowler coined the term ‘crowler’ as a portmanteau of the words ‘can’ and ‘growler.’ ”

Cuvee, at 2000 E. Sixth St., says it purchased its crowler machine in 2014 from Oskar Blue Brewery, using it to fill 32-ounce aluminum crowler cans with beer, “directly from their keg taps.”

“The kegs were, and continue to be, delivered to Cuvee by local beer distributors or directly by breweries authorized to self-distribute beer they manufacture,” Cuvee says.

In addition to having TABC’s crowler rules invalidated and getting its property returned, Cuvee is also seeking reimbursement for court costs.

A court date has not been set.

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