Controversial Florida Growler Bill Amended

Florida craft brewers came closer to finding a bill that would suit them when it comes to providing growler fills to consumers yesterday after lawmakers made sweeping changes to a previously-submitted version.

That bill, a revised version of House Bill 1329, remains unlikely to make it out of committee this year, however.

The brewers have been hot on the trail of the legalization of the popular 64 oz. growler size, and lawmakers have filed three separate bills in the Florida House of Representatives to try to allow manufacturers to sell “fills” of that size container. Current law in the state restricts those fills to 32 oz. or 128 oz. growlers, both of which are used much less frequently.

The bill amended yesterday had been introduced by Rep. Ray Rodrigues. While explicitly calling to allow brewers to fill 64 oz. containers, it would have eliminated the use of the larger growlers, while also prohibiting breweries from obtaining vendor licenses and restricting breweries from selling any to-go containers other than growlers.

Yesterday afternoon, however, to the delight of brewers in the state, a “strike-all amendment” was approved in the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee. That changed the language of the bill to presumably allow craft brewers more latitude.

The strike-all, said Craig Birkmaier of Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, “kind of guts the bad stuff,” from the bill, redefining growlers as any container made specifically to hold malt beverages between 32 and 128 oz. That would encompass the 64-oz. size that brewers in the state have fought for years to legalize.

The strike-all amendment as filed by Rep. Greg Steube also rewrote a number of other provisions related to breweries and brewpubs in craft-friendly language, allowing breweries to open taprooms without a vendor license as long as 70 percent of the beer sold in the taproom is brewed on-premise.

Rodrigues, who accepted $3,500 from larger beer distributors a month before filing HB 1329, according to the Miami Herald, has since vocalized his support of the changes that came from the strike-all.

Nevertheless, the amended bill, to be renamed Committee Substitute 1329, is unlikely to be heard by other house committees before the legislative session ends on May 2, said Josh Aubuchon, executive director and general counsel for the Florida Brewers Guild. He added, though, that it could still use some work before it can become law.

“The bill, in its current form probably will not pass,” he said. “It needs some cleanup.”

Still, it’s cleaner than what came before. A pair of other House bills dealing with sampling and growlers has also made it through subcommittee.

In February, the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee passed HB 283 unanimously. That bill authorized “containers of malt beverages to be sold or offered for sale by vendor at retail in any size.”

That same committee did have one member who missed the following vote, but it, alongside the Regulatory Affairs Committee, voted unanimously to remove the prohibition on beer samplings “at premises of vendors licensed for off-premises sales only” in passing HB 387 as well.

Brewers lauded the approval of amendments to HB 1329, but an un-amended version remains alive in the Senate.

The Senate’s Regulated Industries committee has SB 7120 on the agenda for Wednesday. That bill, like HB 1329, seeks to define the term growler and clarify three-tier exceptions.

Regardless of the perceived improvements, however, if the new bill were to pass, it could still have another consequence: sending Cigar City, one of the state’s most well known and established craft brands, out of state as it seeks to expand.

That brewery, which today revealed its intent to build a third brewing facility, might have to do so out of state under part of the bill.

 

 

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