Officials from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) have seized the “crowler” canning equipment at the flagship café of Austin-based roaster/retailer Cuvee Coffee.
Cuvee has been embroiled in, to put it gently, a slight difference of opinion as it relates to the legality of crowler sales since the company received a 30-day notice to cease crowler canning and selling back in June. Crowlers are an invention of the Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery, designed and marketed as a recyclable alternative to glass growlers. Cuvee has been selling them since shortly after opening its beautiful first brick-and-mortar café last September.
Cuvee owner Mike McKim told Daily Coffee News in June that he planned to fight the order after receiving what he described as inadequate cause from the TABC, which makes no formal mention of crowlers in its regulations. McKim’s decision was based largely on principle, as crowler sales represented a very small portion of the shop’s sales, which also include coffee drinks of all kinds, some food and a rotating selection of craft beers on tap.
The TABC said in an announcement yesterday that it seized the crowler canning equipment — an approximate $3,000 minimum investment — after launching an undercover investigation following the initial 30-day notice. In short, the regulatory agency’s argument suggests Cuvee and “a handful” of other Texas retailers — large grocery chains Whole Foods and Central Market among them — have been unlawfully selling crowlers because they are not breweries. “Under current state law, only businesses with a permit to manufacture or brew beer, ale or malt liquor on-site may can their products for resale,” the TABC wrote, later adding, “We do not support the continued violation of the law just because a retailer disagrees with it.”
Now that the administrative violation has been issued, Cuvee Coffee has the option of paying a fine and ceasing the illegal activity, or contesting the penalty before a state administrative judge.
For its part, Cuvee has not been shy regarding its disagreement with the TABC, even selling t-shirts that say “Come and Take It” with an image of the canning machine. In an announcement last night, the company said it has every intention to take the matter to the courts. Here’s more direct from Cuvee:
Our decision to continue using the crowler was driven by our desire to obtain a judicial ruling on our use of the crowler — a decision not uninvited by TABC representatives. As the press release acknowledges, we were simply exercising our right to petition the courts for a ruling. That can’t happen until a court obtains jurisdiction over this issue.
The violation formally issued by TABC today begins that process. Importantly, it has always been our intention to cease use of the crowler once we received the notice of violation. Now that we have that, we’ll pursue a resolution of the matter with TABC, and the courts, as necessary.