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Law restricting Florida craft beer breweries up for vote

NY State Ends Tax Exemptions For In State Breweries After Lawsuit From Out Of StateThings 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
(850) 224-2337

WJXT story on SB1714

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Beer Industry

 

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Florida House Bill 1329 seeks to put the squeeze on craft brewers

Growler2If 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:

Capitol Office:

Representative Ray Rodriques
1302 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

District Office:

Representative Ray Rodriques
Suite 218
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

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Beer News

 

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