Big beer distributors object to growler bill in Florida Senate committee


Attempts by the craft brewing industry to finally repeal the ban on 64-ounce beer growlers looked promising going into this year’s legislative session in Florida. But a provision added to what was considered a “clean” growler bill proved contentious at a hearing in the Senate Regulated Industries committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Tallahassee.

In December, a straight forward bill that would simply allow Florida to join 48 other states in the country that allow for such sized growlers to be legalized was introduced in the Senate by Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and in the House by freshman Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater (Utah is the other outlier). The bill’s language was short and sweet, and Latvala said he was confident that the legislation would not be stymied by requiring craft breweries having to change the way they do business to appease the beer wholesalers.

But that’s changed after the Florida Retail Federation announced that they were poised to pursue a lawsuit to address the “tourism exception” in state liquor law which has allowed for the creation of tasting rooms over the past 50 years. Those tasting rooms usually located next to the breweries is where brewers can sell their product to customers. They’ve helped the industry grow tremendously in recent years in the Sunshine State.

But the Retail Federation dropped the suit recently, saying they would accept having the Legislature contend with providing clarity to that tourism exception. That provision was then added to the clean growler bill. The new legislation addresses the issue by simply stating that a beer manufacturer’s property “include a brewery.”

But that has now drawn opposition from both sides of the debate.

“When you eliminate the limitation, everybody can open up a so-called ‘brewery’ anywhere in the world, and sell it directly out to retail. That’s our big concern,” said Mitch Rubin with the Florida Wholesalers Beer Association. He complained that no license has ever been denied for a craft brewery to open a tasting room. “We don’t think the tourism exception is a good parameter anymore. But it is the law, and it has not been followed.” He said that the law should be changed to establish “minimum structures.”

Asked what he would like instead, Rubin suggested instituting a barrelage cap or a limit on how many retail licenses a brewery can have.

Most members of the public said they didn’t like the Latvala bill in its current form. Some craft brewer owners said they would prefer a simple, clean bill to repeal the 64-ounce growlers.

Matt Sokolowski from Great Bay Distributors in Largo also said that his company would prefer a clean repeal of the ban on 64-ounce growlers. He said Great Bay is expanding rapidly, but is doing so based on a structured three-tier system of alcohol distribution. Any major changes to it, he said, could put their company’s large expansion plans in trouble.

Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, decided to temporarily postpone the bill at the end of the nearly two-hour discussion, realizing that the concerns about the tourism exception hadn’t been fully addressed.

Senator Latvala said that sounded fine with him. He said the difference between this year’s growler bill and last year was that now it was up to the distributors to come to the table with some reasonable proposals.

But one thing was also for certain, he said, when it came to the craft brewers.

“We’re not going to put that industry out of business. We’re going to continue to allow them to grow. Great Bay is wonderful. I’m really proud of them. But I’m also proud of Dunedin Brewery and 3 Daughters Brewery.”

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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