Growler Bill has craft brewers snarling

Growler Bill has craft brewers snarling

Senate bill unacceptable to industry –

The Florida Senate appears to be letting “big business” have its foot-stomping way, as senators voted 30 to 10 to support Senate Bill 1714, which will severely restrict how craft breweries conduct business – and make money.

It all began last year, when craft brewers asked for a change in legislation to allow distribution of a 64-ounce growler. Fourteen months later the result could have disastrous consequences for Florida’s popular brew pubs, among them Intuition Ale Works, Aardwolf Brewing Company and Bold City Brewery.

Back in March 2013, Senate Bill 1344 was passed to decrease regulation on permissible container sizes under Florida Law Section 563.06, F.S. which only permitted the smaller (32 oz.) or larger (128 oz.) bottles. That law permitting a 64 oz. container was to have gone into effect July 1, 2013.

Enter the big boys
The craft beer industry is small, accounting for about eight percent of all beer sold nationally, and in Florida the market share is less than six percent. According to the Brewers Association there are 47 craft brew-friendly states – Florida is not among them – that permit beer makers to distribute their own beer under various limitations.
Enter Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian multinational beverage and brewing company headquartered in Belgium. It is the world’s largest brewer and has a 47 percent market share in the United States. Apparently, for Florida senators, that’s not enough.

Senate President Don Gaetz endorses SB 1714, much to the dismay of the 50 or so craft brewers in Florida. SB 1714 supports the three-tier system of manufacturer to distributor to retailer without any consideration for the craft brewer. Brew pubs cut out the middle man for sales of packaged products from their tap rooms, but do use distributors to sell those packaged products to retailers.

The bill would limit craft brewers to selling just 20% of their total production out of the taproom, based on a limit of 2,000 kegs per year. Anything produced above that would require the brewers to sell it to a distributor, then buy it back at a 30% markup for taproom sales.

Local brewers speak up
Intuition Ale Works founder Ben Davis said that the bill “requires craft brewers to sell our bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor and buy it back from the distributor if we want to sell it in our own taproom! This would end Underdark Day as we now know it and cut into the profits of locally-owned small breweries across the state.”

Susan Miller, owner of Bold City Brewery, noted, “The main issue with SB 1714 is that breweries would not be allowed to sell their packaged products (bottles, cans and kegs) directly to the public without purchasing it back from the distributors. I can see how some breweries would see this as a problem, given that small breweries depend on their taproom income heavily, especially when first starting up. Many breweries have planned bottle releases during the year and sell them exclusively out of their taprooms. Those would not be allowed, unless they sold the special brew in quart growlers, which is not optimal.”
According to Davis, SB 1714 is “places ridiculous additional regulations on our taproom operations and basically is a shakedown proposed by the wholesalers.”
Aardwolf’s co-founder Preben Olsen shares that sentiment. “This bill is completely unacceptable and this sentiment is unanimously shared by all members of the Florida Brewers Guild,” he said. “‘Allowing’ breweries to sell 64 ounce growlers is only a guise to build support in the senate while simultaneously placing new, unnecessarily strict and undue regulations on the budding industry.”

Unacceptable in any iteration
The bill, which has gone through several revisions, was passed on Apr. 29. The last iteration of the bill would permit taprooms to sell bottles or cans for on-premises consumption, but as noted earlier, with limitations on volume.

“This bill takes revenue from my business and gives it to wholesalers. The half-gallon growler is not worth the price of new regulation and a decrease in our revenue,” Davis said.
For Jacksonville’s craft brewers and their loyal customers, Olsen found the elephant in the room. “It’s sad when public officials are supposed to be for the people, only to seek to serve those who line their own pockets, especially when those interests are of foreign owned, conglomerate companies versus that of a new, local start up,” Olsen noted.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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