Distributors Using Growler Bill to Limit Craft Brewery Growth, Trade Group Says | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Distributors Using Growler Bill to Limit Craft Brewery Growth, Trade Group Says

Some good news and bad news is on the horizon regarding growlers in Florida. The good news is that Floridians may actually get to have their long-coveted 64-ounce growler.

The bad news, at least for craft brewers, is that a bill passed in the Florida Senate yesterday that allows the growlers comes with a stipulation that limits retail licenses to eight per brewer. It also permits tasting rooms at breweries, eliminating the need to use Florida's tourism exemption. 

Ultimately, having growler freedom in Florida is good for consumers, but impacts the bottom line of brewers, says Eddie Leon, owner of MIA Brewing in Doral and president of the Miami Brewers Alliance.

"The 64-ounce growler does not impact the bottom line," Leon says. "It's a luxury, not a necessity." 

Before, only growlers in quart and gallon or more sizes were permitted. Mid-sized growlers are allowed in every state except for Florida and Utah. Past efforts in Florida's legislature tried to eliminate the ban, but all failed. 

Palm Beach Gardens lawyer Mark Miller of the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in Florida last October challenging the state's growler ban. 

The ban was only half the problem. Things escalated a little more on January 8 when the Florida Independent Spirits Association challenged the legality of tasting rooms in breweries. 

Talk to most of the people in the craft brewing scene and they'll likely tell you that the ban is absurd. But that's still not stopping distributing groups from using the ban as a bargaining chip to pass laws that favor them, Leon says. 

The Senate unanimously passed SB 186 with a last minute amendment by the bill's filer, Sen. Jack Latvala, reducing the original number of nine retail licenses per brewer to eight, making the bill even more restrictive. 

A similar bill, HB301, was filed in the House, but has to conform with the Senate version. Once that happens, it goes to Governor Rick Scott to be (most likely) signed into law. 

Leon says the bills started off as straight-forward growler bills, but they somehow morphed into an ugly proposition. He says distributors are using the fake excuse that Anheuser-Busch (considered to be the arch enemy of craft brewers by some) could skirt the state's three-tier system by setting up several retail shops that masquerade as breweries. 

Not that anyone would have to worry about that, since big beer is the antithesis of craft brewing. Nonetheless, Leon says, the restrictions are completely arbitrary. 

In an email sent to lawmakers on April 8, Leon protests that the bill has one unnecessary restriction after another:
"When the distributor groups claimed to have a new “fear” that Anheuser Busch might open small fake breweries on every street corner and acquire manufacturing and vendors licenses and then ship beer directly from one giant brewery to dozens of corner stores without ever dealing with a distributor, the brewers compromised by quickly adding a limitation to SB 186 that would cap transfers to breweries under common ownership at the amount of annual production of the receiving brewery.

However, the restrictions piled on from there. Breweries can currently sell their product directly to other vendor-licensed breweries. At the direction of the distributors, that portion of the law has been deleted as well. Further, while vendors are currently allowed to make deliveries of alcoholic beverages, a new restriction prohibiting vendor-licensed breweries from making such deliveries was added to the bill. Next, representatives of the FBWA and the BIF expressed their pleasure with the legislation but stated that support of the bill was now conditional upon additional restrictions being added. Last week, the manner in which the craft beer industry can grow was further restricted by an amendment that places an artificial and arbitrary cap upon the number of vendor-licensed breweries that any given manufacturer may have. There is currently no such limit. Incredibly, the distribution lobby has vowed to make it even more restrictive.?"
As restrictive as the limitations may be to Florida's beer industry, HB 301 writer Rep. Chris Sprowls said in December 2014 that the growler ban is "an insult to the free market," according to the Tampa Bay Tribune

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David Minsky is U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky

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