Controversial Beer Bill Passes Florida Senate; House Next

Sen. Kelli Stargel

Florida craft brewers could face stricter retail regulations under a new bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

This morning, the Florida Senate voted 30-10 in favor of SB 1714, an amended version of the controversial bill introduced by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel that would limit the amount of beer brewers can sell directly to consumers.

As amended, SB 1714 would allow all of the breweries in the state of Florida to sell, without the aid of a wholesaler, up to 2,000 kegs (up to 1,000 barrels) from their production facilities, either on draft, in growlers, or in sealed containers to go. Breweries that produce more than 2,000 kegs would be able to sell up to an additional 20 percent of their annual on-site production under the same terms.

Prior to the amendment, which now includes the 20 percent carve-out, the bill had been written to ban all on-premise retail sales for brewers producing more than 2,000 kegs annually, unless they first sold beer through a licensed beer wholesaler and then bought back the product for continued retail sales at the brewery. Under current law, brewers of all sizes can sell an unlimited amount of bottles, cans and growlers at their production facilities.

Small brewers in the state have decried the bill as onerous, with prominent players in the industry such as Joey Redner, founder and CEO of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing calling it a deliberate attempt at “killing the growth of craft.”

“SB 1714, the Florida Senate bill which would put breweries that produce more than 1,000 barrels of beer a year on the same footing as behemoth multi-national companies that brew in excess of 100,000,000 barrels of beer a year, is, and I will not mince words, all about killing the growth of craft breweries in Florida,” Redner wrote on his company’s website last week.

Stargel, who served as the bill’s primary sponsor, issued a statement yesterday, saying the bill, in the form passed this morning, ensures “the expanding craft beer industry is in full legal operation, and not operating in a grey area.”

“Let me make myself clear, Senate Bill 1714 will not put craft breweries out of business. Senate Bill 1714 provides the proper protection for the manufacturing and consumption of alcoholic beverages in our state under the current three-tier system,” she added.

This morning, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA) — which has increased contributions to the re-election campaigns of senators who have supported the bill since its inception — issued a statement promoting the bill.

“The Stargel bill gives brewers a great deal of latitude in selling directly to consumers and addresses many of the craft brewers’ concerns without completely destroying Florida’s modern three-tier system,” said Mitch Rubin, executive director of the FBWA. “This is a big compromise for distributors and retailers. Senator Stargel and Rep. Dana Young worked on the bill throughout the weekend. Rep. Young represented the craft interests well.”

The recent attempts to restructure Florida’s alcohol laws stemmed from an effort by Florida’s breweries to legalize the sale of 64-oz. growlers. As such, Sen. Audrey Gibson filed a delete-all amendment of her own yesterday, which gutted the entire bill and left only the language legalizing the half-gallon containers. Currently, 32 and 128-oz. growlers are legal in the state, but 64-oz. containers are not.

Gibson’s amendment was ultimately withdrawn, but sparked inquiry from her peers on the Senate floor.

“Why don’t we just do the growler bill and call it a day?” asked Sen. Aaron Bean on the Senate Floor during a reading of the bill yesterday evening.

Stargel responded by saying that “no one anticipated that this industry was going to come around.”

Before SB 1714 can make its way to the Governor’s desk, however, it must be heard — and passed — by the House.

Florida’s legislative session ends this Friday. If the bill is not heard or passed by the House before Friday, it will be tabled until the next legislative session, which opens in March, 2015.

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