Lawmakers drink in grocery store spirits, growlers in legislative hearing

liquor in walmart

It was a boozy afternoon in Wednesday’s House Business & Professions Subcommittee meeting, led by Apalachicola Republican state Rep. Halsey Beshears and a cavalcade of stakeholders offering public testimony about the current state of affairs within Florida’s alcohol rules and regulations regime.

The two hottest issues were by far and away proposed changes regarding 64-ounce to-go servings of craft beer — known by the term of art “growlers” — and a drive by big-box retailers Target and Wal-Mart to allow hard liquor sales in store aisles.

The battle lines were familiar.

When it came to growlers, Florida Brewers’ Guild representative Josh Aubuchon made his case for the expansion of growler sales outside of brewery tasting rooms, with Green Bench Brewing Co. co-owner Nathan Stonecipher in tow to give a craft brewer’s perspective.

“When it comes to growlers, these are not just an innovative product that people want to have across Florida, and not just a small additional revenue stream, which it is. This is our way of building a brand with our neighbors, with our community, of allowing people to bring this key part of our company and introduce it to their friends and relatives, and growing our brand by word of mouth,” said an impassioned Stonecipher.

The other major fight of the day was about changes to state law that would allow consumers to purchase spirits inside of retail and grocery mega-stores, which currently must sell liquor through a separate door apart from their general merchandise.

Florida Independent Spirits Association lobbyist Scott Dick made a pitch infused with nightmare scenarios centered around hard liquor within easy reach of minors, namely in Louisiana. Dick displayed several PowerPoint slides of liquor sold next to more innocuous items designed for families and children in Slidell, LA. He also referred to a series of news stories which noted that in Washington state, accounts of teens shoplifting booze from grocery stores have popped up.

But a compromise seemed imminently reachable as socially conservative state Rep. Scott Plakon joined with freshman state Rep. Chris Latvala — whose father Jack Latvala is introducing legislation to liberalize growler rules this session — both spoke up to proffer ideas to allow liquor in store aisles in a more responsible way than displayed notoriously lax-on-liquor Louisiana.

The fact that members from two generations of GOP lawmakers, each with a conservative base to balance with a close proximity to the booming market for increasingly sophisticated beer and liquor operations, indicates that they are open to the sales of spirits within big-box stores and without being completely segregated from more conventional groceries. It’s a strong sign that Floridians may yet be able to pick up something a little stronger while picking up dinner in the very near future.

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at [email protected].


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