Beer Politics: Florida Senate Moves Craft Beer Bill Through Committee, Adds Restrictions On Beer To-Go

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The beer landscape in Florida is once again under pressure from state legislators. This time, the pressure comes from the Senate side of our bicameral state government.

Though House bill 1329 was defeated this week with a 'strike all' amendment, Senate bill 7120 aims to cover some controversial ground.

Passed through onto committee via a 10-0 vote on Wednesday, the bill seeks to redefine the growler laws... with some additional points that might put craft brewers through a lot of hoops.

See also: Florida Beer Politics 101: HB 1329 Up For Committee, Another 64 Ounce Growler Bill, and More

Firstly, 64 ounce growlers, the so-called "industry standard", would be legal, though 128 ounce sizes disappear from landscape.

As an added regulation for brewers, "the growler must be clearly labeled as containing an alcoholic beverage and provide the name of the manufacturer, the brand, the volume, the percentage of alcohol by volume, and the required federal health warning notice for alcoholic beverages."

Ross Appel of Komlossy Law, a Hollywood based law firm, says through their blog that the growler section of the bill "only allows growler fills by the brewery at which the beer in manufactured or by vendors that hold a full, expensive, quote liquor license."

"While most states are making simple, clear and obvious changes to their laws to allow the craft beer industry to thrive and create economic opportunities in the state, some in Florida are attempting to hold it back."

In addition, through some last minute amendments to the bill, the text states that "sales to consumers for off-premises consumption of malt beverages that are brewed on the licensed premises are limited to growlers only."

According to Josh Aubuchon executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, "The amendment changes the current structure on how breweries may sell beer to-go, i.e. for consumption off-premises, by PROHIBITING them from selling their own beer packaged in bottles or cans UNLESS it was purchased from a distributor."

What this means is that craft brewers must as well be retail entities in order to sell the beer they make in their own tasting rooms. The containers must leave the brewery, travel to a bonded warehouse where it will 'come to rest' (part of the three-tier laws state that alcoholic beverages must pass through a wholesaler) where it can then be sold back to the brewery so that they can sell it back to consumers.

Aubuchon continues, "A distributor can come to your brewery, purchase your beer, and then sell it back to you at a higher price in order for you to sell it in your tasting room. If they are even more malicious, since you lose control of your beer once it is sold to them, they could limit the amount they sell back to you or even refuse to sell you your own beer."

The fear is that small breweries, especially those in the critical start-up phase, would have an undue burden placed on them financially.

"I do believe there is room on consensus so we don't drive craft breweries out of business," Senator Audrey Gibson, Democrat from northern Florida, said during the public hearing on Wednesday. "I'm very hopeful we'll continue on a forward motion to reach the best place... for our constituents and tourists who come to this state."

Senator Maria Lorts Sachs, Democrat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties, remarked, "I see more regulations in beer than in notaries," and believed that small business was the "American way of doing business."

Ben Davis of Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, spoke briefly about the state of craft beer in the state, warning about the effects of over regulation, and concluding that "overall we have a great potential to become the next California, the next New York, to push craft beer."

This bill, should it be enacted, would take effect July 1, 2014. As of this publication, the bill is awaiting movement to the next step in the legislative process.

Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.

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