Brewers: Florida Senate Bill Could Cripple Craft

Sen. Kelli Stargel

Florida’s Senate Rules Committee voted 9-4 yesterday in favor of a bill that would tighten regulations within the state’s three-tier alcohol distribution system.

Under Senate Bill 1714, brewers that produce more than 2,000 kegs (approximately 1,000 barrels) annually and operate on-premise retail fronts would be required to first sell their beer to distributors before buying it back at a marked up price.

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, who wrote the bill, defended the controversial legislation after it first cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee last week with an 8-1 vote.

“What we are doing is requiring all vendors (point of sale) to go through a distributor. They (craft brewers) want to sell their beer without the controls. You are a brewer, not a vendor,” Stargel told The Ledger at the time.

The bill has the support of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, a powerful organization that, according to the Tampa Bay Times, has “at least doubled its contributions to the re-election campaigns of senators who have voted on the measure.”

Outspoken craft brewer and the founder of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, Joey Redner, told the outlet that the bill’s passage in the Rules Committee is “classic crony capitalism.”

The article adds that in light of Monday’s vote, Stargel intends to work on the bill and “reconsider” that 2,000-keg limit.

Eric Criss, the president of the Beer Industry of Florida (BIF), has also voiced his opposition to the bill, claiming current proposals “would virtually eliminate retail privileges for brewers.”

“Brewers and distributors are good partners and some craft brewers need limited retail privileges to build their businesses,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, it’s in distributors’ interest that small brewers should have a well-defined, limited exception in the statute that allows them to operate as retailers, both on-premise and off-premise.”

The bill itself stems from the controversial efforts put forth by the state’s craft brewers that sought to define growlers as any sealed container made specifically to hold malt beverages between 32 and 128-oz. That definition would include containers of 64-oz., which have long been outlawed in the state, to the chagrin of craft brewers.

For its part, SB 1714 does include a growler definition more in line with what brewers in the state have pined for. As the bill is written, a growler “means a clean container made of glass, ceramic, metal, or similar leak-proof material having a capacity of at least 32 ounces but no more than 128 ounces” filled on-premise for off-premise consumption.

Criss said the BIF will continue to cooperate with lawmakers in the effort to write fair legislation, but will continue to fight for the “limited exception” that would allow small brewers to operate as retailers.

“BIF will work with policy makers and industry members to permit limited retail privileges and other innovations sought by craft brewers, such as the 64 oz. ‘growler’ container,” added Criss. “However, it will oppose vertical integration of the industry that allows an industry member to operate in all three tiers in an unrestricted manner.”

As Brewbound reported last month, Redner said he was worried that the ongoing legislative disputes surrounding growler laws would force Cigar City to expand out of state. The company has considered building a new 120,000-barrel brewery before the end of the year.

The bill has been through all of its committee assignments and is headed to the Senate floor, possibly with revisions as Stargel reconsiders some of its specific language.

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