Austin Craft Beer Bar Defies TABC Ban on Crowlers

The subject in question: the crowler machine and crowlers, which were invented by craft brewery Oskar Blues in conjunction with Ball Packaging.
The subject in question: the crowler machine and crowlers, which were invented by craft brewery Oskar Blues in conjunction with Ball Packaging.
Photo by Jeremy Farmer

At least one Texas bar is ignoring the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s demand to stop filling crowlers. Not too long after our previous article on the ban, owner Mike McKim of Cuvée Coffee Bar at 2000 East 6th Street in Austin declared it is going to continue filling the 32-ounce aluminum cans.

Crowlers are considered by many industry professionals and enthusiasts to be a superior way of preserving and transporting beer. They are recyclable and especially convenient for transporting to places where glass growlers are banned, such as beaches and hiking trails.

The TABC, though, doesn’t see the use of crowlers for take-home beer as a technological improvement on growlers so much as it sees it as “canning” and “repackaging.” Under the law, only beer producers are allowed to package their brews.

McKim says, “I do not agree with the TABC’s interpretation of the law. Therefore, I refuse to stop selling crowlers.” As far as McKim knows, Cuvée is the only bar that is openly defying the ban.

McKim says that the likely consequence is that TABC will start fining the bar $300 a day and, when it refuses to pay, will take it to court. He sees this as a necessary step in getting the law changed.

“A gentleman at the TABC told us we have two options,” explains McKim. “One, we can wait until the Texas legislative session and try to get the law rewritten or I can just say I disagree with their interpretation. Right now, there is no law defining what a crowler is or isn’t. So, all they’re doing is taking state and federal law and interpreting it, which to me is nonsensical, that you can serve a growler but you can’t serve a crowler. The only way we can have a meeting with [the TABC] and go to court is if they come back and issue a citation.”

McKim is hopeful that a court will rule that the interpretation of the current law doesn’t make sense and the fines will be dismissed. Cuvée Coffee Bar has even had a Come And Take It logo designed and is selling T-shirts with it on its website

McKim estimates that Cuvée Coffee Bar, like most other bars that started offering crowlers, invested between $4,000 and $5,000 in both the machine that seals the cans and the cans themselves. They’ve been a big hit with customers. He says that Cuvée sells about 50 a week and the quantity sold now far surpasses traditional growler fills. 

Houston bars that made their own investments in crowler machines include The Petrol Station, Hughie's (which even gave up its mixed beverage license in order to be able to offer crowlers), Nobi Public House and Hop Scholar. 

It will be interesting to see how this standoff over crowlers unfolds. 

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