Things have been brewing in Florida’s state legislature, but not to the benefit of the state’s craft beer brewers. In fact, one bill – Senate Bill 1714 – makes it illegal for a brewery that produces more than 2,00 kegs per year to sell its own beer in bottles or cans directly to consumers. Instead, the brewery must sell the beer to a distributor and then purchase it back at the distributor’s price, typically 30% to 40% higher.
Jacksonville brewery owner Ben Davis of Intuition Ale Works has made it his mission to defeat the bill and preserve the rights of Florida brewers to sell their own beer in their tap rooms. Davis has attended sessions at the Florida senate where the bill has been discussed and even hired a lobbyist to work the political circles and inform elected officials of the damage 1714 would cause. In an interview on Jacksonville television station WJXT, Davis said, “It’s going to kill us. It’ll make us question our whole business plan… I think basically it’s going to push future brewers into other markets, other states.”
Watch the entire story from WJXT by clicking the link at the bottom of this article.
In a press release dated April 21, 2014, Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida – the industry association for Miller/Coors distributors in Florida – made it clear that his organization was opposed to SB 1714. In the release Criss said, “Brewers and distributors are good partners and some craft brewers need limited retail privileges to build their businesses. Therefore, it’s in distributors’ interest that small brewers should have a well-defined, limited exception in the statute that allows them to operate as retailers, both on-premise and off-premise.”
Criss also came out in support of 64-ounce growlers, currently banned in Florida, but the industry standard in 47 other states.
On the other hand, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association has been a strong proponent of the bill and has more than doubled its contributions to the re-election campaign of senators who have voted to pass the measure. According to an article in the Miami Herald April 22, 2014, the association has contributed $65,600 to 2014 or 2016 senate re-election campaigns.
In addition, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, came right out and told the Associated Press that he would support the bill unquestioningly because craft breweries were a problem to his friend Lewis Bear, owner of the Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Florida’s panhandle. Gaetz received more than $8,000 in contributions from beer distributors for his 2012 campaign with Bear anteing up $2,000.
Mitch Rubin, executive director and lobbyist for the Anheuser-Busch distributer group Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, told Reuters their goal is to re-write the state’s rules governing the craft brewing industry to create strict lines between manufacturers, distributors and retailers, which he said would preserve competition. But, many industry insiders say the actual result of the bill would be to eliminate small breweries that need the ability to sell packaged beer from their tap rooms to foster their own growth.
Still, Senator Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the legislation goal is to bolster the three-tier system of alcohol distribution set up by the federal government after Prohibition. In the three-tier system brewers must sell their beer to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers. The system was originally put in place to keep large beer companies from monopolizing the industry. Somehow, that same system has now been turned to the favor of the mega-beer producers who carry political clout because of their deep pockets and campaign sponsorships.
Senate Bill 1714 has already passed its committee hearings and will be brought up to the full senate on Monday, April 28. Senate has until the end of the scheduled legislative session to pass the bill or it is considered dead. The scheduled date to close the current legislative session in the Florida senate is Friday, May 2.
Intuition Ale Works and Davis have announced that they will hold a post-legislative session wrap-up event at the brewery Saturday, May 3starting at 2:00 p.m. According to the Intuition website, Davis “will provide an overview and behind-the-scenes perspective of the anti-craft beer measures that moved through legislature during the 2014 session.” Davis will also provide information on how craft beer lovers can get involved and support the Florida craft beer industry.
If you wish to express your opinion on SB 1714 you may write your state senator. To find the address of your senator, go to the senate website at: http://www.flsenate.gov/about/contact.
You may also contact Mitch Rubin at the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association at:
Florida Beer Wholesalers Association
215 South Monroe Street, Suite 340
Tallahassee, FL 32301