Brew Wars: Florida Legislators Screwed the Craft Beer Industry

It's no secret that Florida's craft beer industry is experiencing a bit of a boom -- belated, sure, compared to other states around the nation, but better late than never. This legislative session, your elected representatives have been kicking around legislation that ostensibly would help the industry.

This being the same legislative body behind greatest hits like Stand Your Ground and a Bong Ban, they've predictably come close to pushing forward law that would actually hurt, not help, Florida brew.

The whole issue revolves around growlers, those 64-ounce beer containers that craft heads love to pick up from breweries. Right now, you can't get 64-ounce containers filled in Florida, but you can get 32-ounce and 128-ounce bottles. Legislation in both the house and senate would ostensibly change that.

But, according to a plea shot out earlier this week by Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, and Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association, the fine print would have a seriously negative impact.

The bills will make it illegal for breweries to sell a 128 ounce growler. It will make it illegal for breweries to fill growlers of their own beer if it was brewed at another location. It will make it illegal for specialty beer shops that are subject to inspection by the Health Department to sell growlers but protects liquor stores that are not required to be inspected by the Health Department. The bill also stipulates that if the new growler restrictions are not strictly adhered to, then you are committing a first degree misdemeanor and could have your brewery license revoked.

By basically handcuffing the industry to twisting regulation, such legislation basically ensured that the craft brew growth in Florida would stop in its tracks.

Brewers found some relief this week in the house, where legislators essentially made some tweaks to the legislation that would not only define growlers as anything between 32 and 128 ounces, but also ironed out the stipulations listed above.

What's the problem now? Well, that cleaned up legislation probably won't hit the floor for a vote before the session ends in May. "The bill, in its current form probably will not pass," Josh Aubuchon, the head of the Florida Brewers Guild, told BrewBound.com this week. "It needs some cleanup."

So it looks like the craft brew world avoided full-scale destruction at the hands of legislators. But still, ducking near-disaster doesn't provide the industry much of a handhold in the immediate future. Until some kind of solid law gets in the books, Florida-brewed beer isn't going to boom as an industry.

Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson