Craft distillers get early win in Senate

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Let the spirit(s) flow: A Senate panel OK’d a measure to raise the amount of booze a Florida craft distillery can produce per year and still be considered “craft.”

The bill (SB 296) by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes bumps that cap from 75,000 gallons to 250,000 gallons—a more than 233 percent increase.

The distinction isn’t just a matter of pride: “Distilleries pay an annual $4,000 license tax and craft distilleries pay $1,000,” a staff analysis explained.

Democrats on the Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted against the bill. Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said she was concerned about how big to allow craft distilleries to get and still consider them “craft.” Half jokingly, Brandes had said he’d be willing to push the 250,000-gallon cap even higher.

“That wasn’t the purpose of my question,” Gibson said, smiling. More seriously, Brandes said he just wants to provide craft distillers “plenty of runway to grow their business.”

The bill also removes the six-bottle limit on how much craft distilleries can sell direct to customers, with Brandes saying he’d like to “allow people to transact as they see fit.” Not surprisingly, that was opposed by Scott Ashley of the Wine and Spirits Distributors of Florida.

The legislation also includes provisions Brandes pushed last year, including a repeal of the bottle-size law, allowing sales of wine bottles of all sizes.

And it would repeal a state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It’s variously known as “Pinot to go,” “Merlot to go,” and “Take-away Chardonnay.” It’s the continuing legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

The bill next moves to the Rules Committee. A House version has not yet been heard.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected]



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