After three years of fighting to repeal Florida’s long held ban on the half-gallon jugs, craft brewers will soon be able to sell 64 oz. refillable growlers.
State lawmakers passed a bill to legalize the container on Friday. Senate Bill 186 passed out of the House unanimously and awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. It legalizes 64-oz. growlers filled at the point of sale. The bill also clarifies a controversial “tourism exemption” that had enabled craft brewers to operate in a legal gray areas as both retailers and producers.
Under SB 186, a brewery is now eligible to receive a vendor’s license without needing secondary components that promote tourism. The bill limits breweries to eight vendors licenses, however, ostensibly to prevent a larger brewing company from overtaking the market.
Friday’s ruling quells, for the time being, what had turned into an ugly dispute within the industry’s three tiers over brewery-based retailing. Over the years, there had been little opposition to growler reform from other industry stakeholders in Florida. Nevertheless, proponents struggled to legalize the 64-oz. container — previous attempts were routinely attached to more divisive retail amendments.
Most recently, it was the tourism exemption that stalled progress. In January, a group of retail advocacy groups and wholesaler networks filed a lawsuit with the state over the carve-out. They withdrew the challenge when the state agreed to look at the matter.
Mike Halker, president and head brewer of Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach said he was pleased that the tasting room issue has been taken care of.
“Ultimately, it does ensure the legality of our tasting rooms in the state of Florida and we can move beyond any third party bringing in any litigation,” he said. “I think you’ve got a much better opportunity to grow when you have tasting rooms. If we weren’t allowed to have tasting rooms, the opposite would certainly be true.”
Halker, who also serves as the president of the Florida Brewers Guild, noted, however, that in order to earn tasting room approval, concessions had to be made. Prior to the bill’s passage, there were no limitations on the number of vendors licenses a brewery could hold (now it’s capped at eight). Additionally, there weren’t any limits on the amount of beer a company could transfer from one of its locations to another, he said (now, they can transfer “in an amount up to the yearly production amount at the receiving facility”).
On Friday, State Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) emailed constituents a letter celebrating the bill’s passage, addressing it, “Dear Craft Brewer Enthusiast.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” he wrote. “This common sense, consumer and small business friendly bill allows our local brewers to compete nationally and grow their businesses locally.”
Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, a MillerCoors aligned lobbying group representing six prominent wholesalers in the state, said his group supports the growler reform, but they’re worried about the loosening of retail regulations, calling the bill a “mixed bag.”
“We’re a little concerned about the unintended consequences and the scope of the retail privileges,” he said. “We would have liked to have seen a daily case limit, let’s say two cases per day.”
In February, Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Craft Brewers Guild, told Brewbound his organization was in support of the bill.
Pending Gov. Scott’s signature, the bill will become law on July 1.