Texas brewers’ legal victory significant for more than obvious reasons

Texas State Capitol

mask-of-silenus-avatarThis week, Texas craft brewers claimed something rare for their industry in this state. They won a legal victory.

The drama began three years ago with what was then known as Senate Bill 639. Introduced into the 2013 state legislative session by Dallas state senator John Carona (who subsequently lost the next election), the bill stated its intent of “protecting the independence of distributors” by eliminating compensation for craft breweries for territorial distribution rights of their products. Essentially, it stripped small breweries of the right to make money by selling their brand—something the distributors still had the privilege of doing once a distribution agreement was signed.

Craft brewing has the same rights of identity as any other industry operating in this state.

In an unprecedented action, three Texas craft breweries took the state legal code to task in December 2014. Two North Texas breweries, Peticolas Brewing of Dallas and Revolver Brewing of Granbury, jointly filed suit with Austin’s Live Oak Brewing and the Institute for Justice against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to have the new law overturned as a violation of the state constitution. For small businesses like today’s craft breweries, the ability to make money selling their distribution rights can be a big revenue source at start-up, not to mention that they would receive no benefit or compensation should a contracted distributor strike a later deal. It was a blatant and vulgar power-grab by the wholesalers lobby, and challenging it was the right thing to do.

District Court Judge Karin Crump agreed this week, finding no compelling state interest in such a law. Although consumers may not see any tangible benefit from such an esoteric lawsuit, it will only contribute to the improving health and strength of craft brewing in Texas (which ultimately benefits consumers). However, more has been achieved with this decision than simply rolling back biased regulations or defending the pockets of small brewers. This decision may be a truly significant turning point for the brewing industry in Texas.

First significant legal challenge in Texas craft brewing

The craft brewing industry has made monumental advances in Texas brewing laws in recent years, probably the largest favorable gains since legalization of brewpubs back in 1993. They have struggled tirelessly to change laws both state and municipal; they have fought zoning, distributors, retailers, even conservative anti-alcohol groups who have no interest in craft beer. They face down the TABC and lobbyist groups every two years when the legislature meets in Austin.

What makes this result any different? This was a legal challenge to an existing law enacted in 2013, not a state-wide popular movement for incremental change. This was not grass-roots anything: these were some of the most knowledgeable, seasoned professional brewers this state has to offer taking on an unjust law forced upon their industry by a much more powerful special-interest group.

And the judge agreed with them. This giant is not as invincible as we once thought.

Intellectual property matters, even for breweries

What also sets this struggle apart are the stakes over which it is being fought. Of course, every legal matter regarding business and regulation can usually be boiled down to money and, truthfully, this decision is no different. Laws are enacted to win economic power and either project it or protect it. The parties behind laws are always fighting to control bigger pieces of their respective pies.

However, this lawsuit was not explicitly about commerce or access or territory or financial advantage over a competitor. The lawsuit just won was brought over control of a brewery’s intellectual property, the ownership of their fundamental rights as a business at the point of distribution and thereafter in future transactions. Too long has craft brewing been singled out as an industry, operating under a legal double-standard not even shared with wine and other alcohol manufacturers. Craft brewing has the same rights of identity as any other industry operating in this state.

Craft brewers can collaborate on more than just beer

Collaborations are nothing new for the craft beer game. If not simply a business partnership for a combined venture, genuine friendships develop and result in new and inventive beers. Brewery X will meet Brewery Y at a common event like the Great American Beer Festival and decide to collaborate on a flashy, co-branded product. The industry is embarrassingly amicable to direct competitors, even those in the same market, and these ventures usually result in a win-win-win for both parties and consumers.

But this collaboration is a brand-new animal. Texas craft breweries have now demonstrated that they can band together not only for a united front for change before lawmakers; they can also work together to fight for a focused, tactical purpose on behalf of their entire industry. Craft brewing is no longer a domain of hobbyist businessmen selling in a boutique marketplace. This was a grown-up lawsuit, and we walked away with the W. SD

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Common Table Poor Man’s Beer Dinner still on point

Poor Man's Beer Dinner

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Common TableToday, beer and wine dinners have become almost a yawning marketing commodity among the bar and restaurant industry. But in the days a half-decade ago when craft beer was just establishing its foothold in North Texas, beer-pairing dinners were rare and celebrated events.

Early movers with Dallas beer dinners both in prominence of brewing figures they attracted as well as the outstanding craveability of the food and beer pairings were Meddlesome Moth and The Common Table, two of the more senior and respected local craft beer meccas. Whereas the Moth still hosts preeminent dinners of no decline in quality, The Common Table left the standard event model years ago for a still-novel concept: the weekly Poor Man’s Beer Dinner. Prepared afresh each time, an affordable multicourse meal is paired with stocked commercial craft beers but offered regularly and to order.

Recently realizing that a couple of years had passed since my last Poor Man’s dinner, their past Monday offering caught my eye with the theme of Hatch chiles, that seasonal consumer darling that overruns Central Market and seems to spawn marketing gold each summer. Often these dinners are constructed around a theme, usually by breweries newly arrived to Texas with their products, but being a fan of the fruit (yes, chiles are a fruit) I had to give this one a try. I’m happy to report that the quality of this meal deal remains top-notch.

First course
Hatch chile chicken tortilla soup paired with Duvel Single
Hatch chile chicken tortilla soup

A small bowl of chunky soup with thin, fried tortilla strips, the dish was deliciously flavored but burning with fiery chile heat. Although somewhat a chore to finish (at least for my bolillo heat tolerance), it was the hottest element of the entire meal, and woke up the palate with a full-faced alarm.

The paired course beer, Duvel Single, is Moortgat’s lighter version of their Belgian pale ale, single-fermented for the same flavors but without the strength of regular Duvel. One would think it an optimal match for the Hatch heat but alcohol does little to quench capsaicin once it makes camp on your palate.

Second course
Garden salad with Hatch chile avocado dressing paired with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

Garden salad with Hatch chile avocado dressing

Seemingly plain in comparison, this simple mixed greens salad had a smooth, lightly creamy dressing with a pleasant cooling effect after the heat of the previous course. The flavor of the Hatch was captured and eased somewhat by the smooth, fatty avocado texture.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is that brewery’s unfiltered wheat ale brewed after a traditional Bavarian style. It worked with the fresh salad to tame the heat of the previous course as well as the flavors themselves pleasantly complimenting each other.

Third course
Blackened red snapper with Hatch chile risotto fortified with Fontina served on a lemon beurre blanc paired with Community Mosaic

Blackened red snapper with Hatch chile risotto (fontina) and a lemon burre blanc

This dish was outrageously perfect, and by far the star of the evening. Perfectly cooked snapper was served mildly blackened with mellow cajun spices to work with but not overshadow the still-lingering pepper heat. It was dressed with a tart lemony sauce and served on a bed of luscious Hatch chile risotto beautifully fortified with Fontina that almost overshadowed the entrée. (I would enjoy this added as a regular menu item, or at least a rotating special.)

Paired with Community Mosaic, the aggressive IPA brought enough sharp flavors for a fresh, palate-cleansing bite. On its own, Mosaic is one of my personal weekly go-to beers and easily one of the top IPAs to come out of North Texas.

Fourth course
Vanilla bean ice cream with candied Hatch chiles and crushed pecans paired with Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout

Vanilla bean ice cream with candied Hatch chiles and crushed pecans

One would never think of chiles as a dessert item but candied, sliced rounds of Hatch chiles still coated in sugar provided a fantastic vegetal flavor to the creamy scoop and crunchy pecan bed. All elements for the entire dish just synched, both in flavor and texture.

The last stocked bottle of Sam Smith was served just before my course was served, but calling an audible with Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis worked equally as well. With all respect to Tadcaster ( a legend on its own), Ninkasi’s oatmeal stout with vanilla was an even better match for this particular course.

Unknown at the start, this was Chef Nick Wells’ last Poor Man’s dinner as he leaves this week for a new kitchen not too far away (Dots Hop House, a new Deep Ellum venture soon to open from the owners of Denton’s Oak Street Drafthouse). Once again, The Common Table proves it has an expert hand in not only selecting a quality lineup of taps but also a kitchen still strongly firing on all cylinders.

Walk in any Monday evening between 6:30 and 9pm for a small treat of refined yet affordable cuisine. SD