Florida Craft Beer in Legal Troubles
Imagine a world where the only chance at finding delicious craft beer was randomly stumbling upon it at your local grocery store or happening to find a liquor store with the right connections. No more trips to the tasting room to see what new concoctions have tickled the brewer’s fancy this month. No more asking to sample every beer they have on tap. This horribly unfortunate scenario could be our reality if a new lawsuit filed against the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) makes enough waves.
The lawsuit has been filed against the DBPR, and it affects the way beer is sold, distributed, and brought to market. The group filing this claim, The Florida Retail Federation, claims that the DBPR is improperly issuing licenses used by breweries to sell beer through their tasting rooms. The laws were originally intended for Anheuser-Busch when they owned and operated Busch Gardens and sold beer in the theme park. According to the WTSP news outlet in Tampa, the suing party is associated with ABC Fine Wine & Spirits as well as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch distributors (10 News Staff, WTSP, 2015). These are gigantic, wealthy, successful companies that are adversely affected by the growth and success of the craft beer market.
With this lawsuit could come new legislation which would require breweries to no longer sell the beer they make on premises. That means the only way to get a glass of Cycle Brewery Crank IPA would be to happen across it at a local bar or hope your local grocery store has the right distributor connection. In a very real sense, this would completely shut down small local beer makers. When these craft beer makers start out, they live and die by their tasting rooms since the bulk of their revenue is generated from these tasting rooms.
Most can see the clear intention of the lobbyist group is to make craft beer a bureaucratic nightmare and impossible to continue in its current form. If the commercial breweries had it their way, they would prefer to have the craft beer makers make beer, sell it to a distributor, and then sell it back to the tasting room. Obviously creating a needlessly redundant redundancy. There’s a reason why Florida craft beer has exploded from six breweries in 2007 to over fifty in 2013 with twenty-eight additional being planned to start in 2014 (Taylor, Fairchild, Hodges, & Stevens, 2014); this type of legislation is not one of those reasons. We have a very young craft beer market and it is continuing to grow despite some of the harshest regulation in the country.
Other states celebrate the emergence of their craft beer markets, but Florida is considering a step backwards to make it more difficult or even impossible for these types of businesses to exist. Fortunately we have a few lawmakers in Tampa fighting for our brewers. Representative Dana Young from Tampa completely disagrees with the proposed change in legislation (Perry, 2014) and according to an article in The Tampa Bay Times, she is in the midst of fighting for the removal laws surrounding the size of growlers able to be sold in Florida (Van Stickler, 2014). Growlers are large reusable bottles that can be refilled at breweries and taken home to consume. Currently in Florida, 32 and 128 ounce growlers are perfectly legal beer vessels, 64 ounce containers are illegal and unable to be used or sold by breweries. Most people agree this makes absolutely no sense and should be repealed. An Associated Press article confirmed that Florida is alone in their bizarre beer laws, not that it really needed further confirmation, as they are the only state in the country that has this law in place (Associated Press, 2015).
Despite all the obstacles in the way, the craft beer movement in Florida is charging ahead. There are some of us fighting to get the beer culture up to par with the likes of Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado. There’s an indiegogo page (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-florida-s-craft-breweries) set up to accept donations for the non-profit association, The Florida Brewers Guild, that is committed to help lobby and garner support to help Florida craft breweries. They are leading the charge against these types of frivolous laws and lawsuits. The group also commissioned the University of Florida to research the financial impact the craft beer industry has had on the Florida economy. To summarize, the report showed that Florida is operating at roughly ten percent of its craft beer capacity. We could see over 500 individual craft breweries in Florida, but not if bogus legislation gets in the way. Florida has the potential to create $2.5 billion in output and 40,000 jobs through the growth in the craft beer market (Taylor, Fairchild, Hodges, & Stevens, 2014). However these laws and proposed legislation would stifle any new competition and leave the fastest growing beer sector crippled and unable to properly flourish. If you can’t donate to the indiegogo project, please help show your support by writing you representative and senator. Let them know you stand against these types of inane policies.
10 News Staff, WTSP. (2015, January 13). Beer battle between distributors, craft breweries. Tampa, Florida, USA.
Associated Press. (2015, January 15). Liquor stores, beer distributors challenge brewery licenses. Tallahassee, FL, USA.
Perry, M. (2014, December 11). Dana Young takes Mitch Rubin at his word on growlers. Retrieved from Saint Peters Blog: http://www.saintpetersblog.com/archives/170466
Taylor, T. G., Fairchild, G. F., Hodges, A. W., & Stevens, T. J. (2014, Februray 13). Economic Contributions of the Florida Craft Brewing Industry to the Florida Economy. Retrieved from University of Florida: http://www.fred.ifas.ufl.edu/economic-impact-analysis/pdf/Craft_Brewing_FL_2014.pdf
Van Stickler, M. (2014, April 29). Senate growler bill likely to fall flat in House, says Rep. Dana Young. Retrieved from Tamba Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/senate-growler-bill-likely-to-fall-flat-in-house-says-rep-dana-young/2177422