Senate approves 'clamp down' on craft brewers

Published On: Apr 29 2014 09:15:50 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 29 2014 09:15:55 PM EDT

A big beer battle is brewing in Tallahassee. The right to pour a certain size pits two legislators and some beer enthusiasts against beer distributors. What's at stake: 64 ounce growlers.Florida is one of only three states where it's illegal to fill one of these containers.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

The Senate approved new distributor-backed regulations for the craft brewers that would allow aficionados to take home 64-ounce "growlers" but which small brewers say could put a lid on future growth.

The Senate voted 30-10 on Tuesday to approve the latest changes to the proposal (SB 1714) that started as a simple measure to allow individuals with to fill up the popular growlers at local breweries, as is now allowed for 32-ounce containers and some other sizes.

But in an attempt to make the proposal go down easier, Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel amended the proposal on Monday to allow craft brewers --- without the use of a distributor --- to sell on-site up to 20 percent of any beer produced above the 2,000-keg mark. Breweries would also be capped at selling the equivalent of one keg of beer per individual each day.

Under the current bill, breweries would have to start paying distributors once they start selling more than 2,000 kegs worth of beer annually for off-site consumption. The plan also includes sealing and labeling requirements for the containers to be taken off-site.

The changes will help craft brewers who are operating under an ambiguous 50-year-old law that was designed to allow amusement parks to operate taprooms, Stargel said. She also said her proposal won't keep small brewers from expanding.

Stargel said that industry opponents, who have targeted her through texts and on Facebook, don't want new regulations.

"Unfortunately, we have to be like a parent in this process and we have to sometimes do what we know as lawmakers is the best thing for their industry," Stargel said. "What we're doing in this bill is allowing them certainty in the law to do what they're doing."

But Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala argued that the new regulations will "clamp down" on an industry that has grown from six craft brewers in 2007 to more than 50 last year, employing more than 900 in the state, and resulting in more than $69 million in sales in 2012.

"People just see it for what it is," Latvala said, "which is an attack on an industry to protect another group of businesses, which is the distributors."

The changes retain the Depression-era three-tier alcohol regulation system that requires the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages be separated.

With a few exceptions, retailers have to buy their products from distributors who in turn buy their products from the manufacturers. Distributors are licensed to sell and distribute alcoholic beverages at wholesale to people who are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages at retail. Only licensed vendors are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages directly to consumers at retail.

The craft brewery proposal, which lacks a House companion but could be taken up by the chamber before the session ends on Friday, comes at the urging of Anheuser-Busch InBev distributors.

"The Stargel bill gives brewers a great deal of latitude in selling directly to consumers and addresses many of the craft brewers’ concerns without completely destroying Florida’s modern three-tier system," Mitch Rubin, a lobbyist for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, said in a press release issued Tuesday.

But Joshua Aubuchon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild, complained that the plan as written will harm the industry by creating operational limitations.

"We're allowed to get successful, but not too successful," Aubuchon said.

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