What do you get when you cross a 12 oz. can of beer with a 64 oz. growler? A messy brush with Texas law, as Cuvee Coffee Bar is finding out.
Cuvee has been offering beer to-go since December in crowlers, the 32 oz. aluminum growlers that look like super-sized cans. According to the TABC, however, the East Sixth Street coffee bar can’t be using the crowler to fill beer without a brewpub license and has 30 days to clear out the crowler machine.
That’s because Cuvee, the TABC said, is in violation of a Texas manufacturing law stating cans of beer are only able to be produced by the beer maker, not by a retailer selling the beer.
The dust-up over the crowler seems to be, at heart, a debate over semantics — albeit a crucial one that could determine whether the overlarge beer containers come into popular use at other bars around Texas.
“Only someone who manufactures that product can can that product,” TABC spokesperson Chris Porter said. “Canning is looked at as a manufacturing process, and a growler is looked at a little more leniently under the law.”
But that’s not how Cuvee founder Mike McKim sees it. That’s also not the reason he was told to remove crowlers from Cuvee, he said.
“(The TABC inspector) couldn’t give me a good answer about the difference between serving a ‘growler’ versus a ‘crowler,'” McKim said. “It seemed to come down to that the crowlers constitute re-packaging beer.”
To McKim and others in the beer industry, a crowler is, as Bitch Beer’s Caroline Wallace wrote yesterday in a blog post about the TABC ruling, “a 32 oz. aluminum growler that comes in the form of a large can. Like a standard glass growler, a crowler is sealed on the spot in a taproom or bar to serve as a container for takeaway draft beer. While a standard growler is reusable, a crowler is single-use and recyclable.”
In other words, it’s not a can of beer in the traditional sense. That’s the heart of the problem, McKim said.
“Bottom line is, they’re so new, the TABC doesn’t know what to do with them,” he said.
McKim — who isn’t the only owner of a bar that’s installed a crowler system in Texas — has decided he’s not simply going to remove the crowlers from Cuvee Coffee Bar.
“I think if I don’t do anything about this, just remove my crowler and that’s it, I think it could be disastrous not just for Texas’ beer community, but there could be a ripple effect nationwide, who knows,” he said. “If enough people know about it and enough people say it doesn’t make sense, then hopefully the TABC will back off and say, ‘We were wrong, no big deal.'”
But if the TABC doesn’t relent, he said, then he’s prepared to hire a lawyer and fight. “I can’t do nothing; that would be wrong,” he said.
TABC’s Porter said that if Cuvee starts making its own beer on-site with the proper brewpub permitting, the coffee bar would be able to retain the crowler machine. “Otherwise, they have to use growlers,” he said. “That’s set by the legislature.”
But the TABC is missing the point, McKim said.
“In my opinion, there is nothing different from me selling beer out of an aluminum vessel, a glass vessel or a stainless steel vessel. It is manually filled from the tap and sealed,” he said. “That’s what my sticking point is.”