If you have heard it once, you have heard it a thousand times; craft beer is booming and momentum continues to grow. You have likely also heard that ‘Big Beer’ is not at all happy about this. Sure, there are craft brewers that have sold portions of their operations to big beer, but as a whole, craft beer and big-yellow-fizzy-beer do not get along well.
So, is it any surprise that, in a state that has finally gotten its feet under itself in the craft beer world, Big Beer has found a legislator to champion their cause and introduce a bill that will effectively choke the life out of smaller breweries? Of course it is not.
That is exactly what is happening in Florida right now following the introduction of House Bill 1329, dubbed the “Big Beer Bill.”
Ray Wesley Rodrigues (Republican, Fort Myers), sponsored and filed the HB 1329 on Monday, March 3, 2014. The bill was filed in the aftermath of what an analysis by Komlossy Law P.A. calls, “self serving comments from Eric Criss.” For those not in the know, Criss is the current president of Beer Industry of Florida, Inc., a trade association that includes Florida’s largest beer distributors as members.
The comments referred to in the analysis were published Friday, January 21, 2014 by The Gainesville Sun. In the article, written by Criss, comments like, “…better known brands like Budweiser are hemorrhaging market share…” seem to point a finger at craft beer as the David that is taking down the Goliath. It goes on to provide a chiding history lesson that points to the evils of the alcohol industry and seems to warn that without the new legislation we are headed there again. In the article, Criss says, “There was a time when brewers often sold direct to the public through retailers they owned or controlled called “tied houses.” This led to aggressive sales tactics, deep discounts, and high-volume drinking with the end result being large-scale addiction, domestic violence, and worse.” Later in the article he goes on to praise the three-tier system in bringing about a reduction alcohol-related driving fatalities, DUI arrests and DUI convictions. Finally, Criss cranks up the fear by saying, “…irrational exuberance over the craft beer revolution threatens to unravel the layers of protection it provides to our children and communities.”
The bill itself effectively puts the screws to smaller breweries, making it nearly impossible for a new brewery to open and for established breweries to grow. The bill breaks down to this:
- Limits the situations in which a craft brewer may sell beer to end consumers
- Requires brewers to include in their business plans that they intend to supply beer to distributors
- Prohibits brewery tap rooms from selling beers brewed wholly or partially by another brewery except when certain circumstances exist
- Defines a growler as a container of either 32- or 64-ounces
Under the bill, craft breweries will be able to sell their own beer for consumption in their own tap room as well as, in some cases, allow for guest beers to be sold for on-premises consumption. But, breweries will only be able to sell growlers of their own beers. In addition, if the brewery stops making beer for the purpose of distribution for 60 days without a good reason, they lose their ability to have guest taps. As for collaboration beers, the can be made but not served in the brewery’s tap room. They must go directly to the distributor.
So, let’s see if we have this straight; with HB 1329 we will get our half-gallon growlers, but we lose our gallon growlers. In addition, if we want to drink a pint or two at our local tap room, we can as long as the brewery intends to produce enough beer to package and send to a distributor. We cannot drink collaboration beers in tap rooms; instead we have to buy it from a retailer. Oh, and if a brewery has to shut down for a period of time – for any reason other than the few outlined in the bill – said brewery will lose its ability to have guest taps and possibly its ability to sell its own beer in its tap room.
Convoluted enough for you? How about we take a step back and get this right? How about we embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of these small businesses and put some laws in place to give them some security and peace of mind rather than trying to trip them up at every turn?
Here are some recommendations:
- Amend the growler law to allow 32-, 64- or 128-ounce
- Allow for growler sales of on-premises brewed beers as well as guest taps
- Allow small, community-based, collaborative brew pubs to license their premises and sell beer without the need for packaging and selling to a distributor
- Allow breweries to collaborate and advance the art and science of brewing with each other and share the fruits of their labors in their respective tap rooms
Finally, legislators need to stop twisting the truth about alcohol consumption. Craft beer does not adversely affect alcohol abuse any more than recent innovations like the vented beer cans introduced by both AB-InBev and Miller/Coors. These cans serve only one purpose; to get more beer into the mouths of consumers faster. That seems to be a greater evil than craft beer that is often enjoyed more slowly so as to savor the complex flavors of the beer.
You can help fight this frivolous and unnecessary legislation by writing Representative Rodriques and your local Florida representative.
Write Representative Rodriques at:
Representative Ray Rodriques
1302 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
Representative Ray Rodriques
17595 South Tamiami Trail
Fort Myers, FL 33908-4570
You may find your local representative at the Florida House website: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/sections/representatives/myrepresentative.aspx
Here is the bill: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2014/1329