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Florida Retail Federation backing down from brewery lawsuit, but breweries not in the clear

cigarcity1In an article published January 26, the Tampa Tribune reports that the, “The Florida Retail Federation, a statewide lobbying group, is now backing away from its legal challenge to a loophole in alcoholic beverage law that benefits the state’s craft beer makers.”

But, it is not because they have had a change of heart. The group is stepping aside because the Florida state regulators have promised to review the laws on their own.

The challenge is just the latest in a long history of adverse actions Florida craft beer brewers have had to endure. Over the past few years breweries have had to fight Florida legislators to keep from being severely restricted in how they operate. The newest challenge seeks to close the loophole that allows breweries to operate and sell their beer in taprooms adjacent to their breweries. If the loophole is closed, breweries would be forced to sell their beer to a distributor and then buy it back undoubtedly at a markup.

This action is causing a “life or death” situation for young breweries that depend on taproom income to keep their operation going until it can grow large enough to sustain itself through distribution. But, income is not the only reason breweries need tasting rooms. New breweries depend on the word of mouth taprooms provide to raise awareness for their product. The tasting rooms provide a means for potential customers to try the breweries beer without having to search them out in an already crowded market.

The constant legal issues within the state could drive breweries out of the state. At lease one brewery, Tampa’s popular and critical darling Cigar City Brewing Company is looking to set up in a more brewery-friendly state. In a  story aired on Tampa’s Bay News 9, Cigar City owner Joey Redner said he is looking for a location in the Carolinas.

Another Florida brewery with a very vocal owner, Intuition Ale Works, has been barraging social media with information and please for support. Intuition’s owner, Ben Davis, has issued a Call to Action asking for support from craft beer lovers statewide. A legal defense crowdfund ( https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-florida-s-craft-breweries) has been set up to help with the legal battle to come.

Intuition also has reveled a bit of sarcastic humor aimed at the situation. On January 26, the brewery quietly sent an email to its followers announcing Intuition Ale World. The email goes on to describe the land as, “Boasting interactive 3D brewery tours, the tallest steel roller coaster in Jacksonville, a restaurant serving world famous beer brats, loads of thrilling water attractions, award-winning live entertainment and weekly festivals and concerts.”

A website with a concept drawing has even been produced and can be viewed at: http://intuitionaleworld.com/

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Beer News

 

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Florida craft breweries face challenge to tap room beer sales

Image by Flickr user heady, used under a Creative Commons License.

Image by Flickr user heady, used under a Creative Commons License.

Just when the craft brewers in Florida think that they may have a chance at making a real change in the archaic — and decidedly slanted — thinking of the state’s lawmakers, another challenge raises its ugly head. In this case, a law suit filed with the state by a collaboration of several groups bent on making it more difficult for craft brewers to sell their product. The suit is being brought by Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organizations. Its purpose is “clarify” the state’s issuance of licenses to breweries and the ability of those breweries to sell beer in tasting rooms for both on-premises consumption and off-premises consumption in growlers and other packaging.

What is not mentioned by the suit is that some of the sponsors have a vested interest in breweries being prohibited from selling growlers and packaged beer. One of the sponsors, ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, has recently begun installing growler fill stations in their stores at an aggressive pace. Something that, if their suit is successful, breweries would not be allowed to do.

Ben Davis, owner of Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, Fla., has issued a call to action letter through email and on social media. Davis has long been an advocate and activist in Florida’s rapidly expanding craft beer scene. In the last congressional session, he employed a lobbyist to look out for the interests of craft brewers.

Davis is also on the cusp of expanding his operation from its current location to a much larger and much more visible location near the sports district in downtown Jacksonville. The suit could place these plans and those of craft brewers who want to open or expand in Florida in serious jeopardy.

Davis’ letter is reprinted below. At the end of it, he provides opportunities for you to help.

Dear Craft Beer Fans –

I am writing to you in regards to the recent legal challenge filed by groups that oppose the Florida craft beer industry. This legal challenge is being led by the Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organizations. This has been an orchestrated attack on our industry.

As many of you know, we have been fighting for 2+ years to legalize half gallon growlers and we have continually been forced to go on the defensive to protect our interests. We are fighting groups that have the resources and political clout to fight us at every turn.

One of our only weapons has been your support and it is much appreciated.

When I started Intuition over 4 years ago I was focused on making great beer, supporting my community and advocating for our industry.

I have spent far too much time and energy protecting my industry against groups that want to slow our growth at a minimum and at a maximum make us go away.

I have 2 young sons that I would love to be involved with Intuition one day. I love this industry and take pride in creating a legacy for my boys. I could not live with myself if I did not fight to protect this industry. My parents raised me to stand up for what I believe in and I have always taken that to heart.

Our taprooms are vital to the health of our industry. Our opposition is strongly opposed to the way our taprooms currently operate. We currently can sell our beer directly to our supporters via our taproom. Our opposition would like to force us to sell our beer to a distributor and then buy it back, at a markup, before we can sell it to you. I am strongly opposed to any change to the current laws intended to hurt my business and my industry as a whole.

Our opposition knows we do not have the financial resources to fight their legal challenge.

This is where you come in. The Florida Brewers Guild has set up a crowdfunded legal defense fund. We estimate that we will need $100,000 to fight this. A ridiculous sum but it is the reality of the situation.

Here is a link to the site: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-florida-s-craft-breweries

Any contribution will help as we are literally fighting for the life of the Florida craft brewing industry.

I want to make this clear that this is a legal issue not a legislative one. Our state reps cannot help us, yet.

This is how you can help.  Contact our opposition:

Florida Retail Federation (850) 222-4082
Beer Industry of Florida (850) 222-8960
Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (850) 224-2337
Florida Independent Spirits Association (850) 421-9100

Ask them why they are fighting against the craft breweries they sell, and ask them to drop their legal challenge.

Thanks in advance for your past and continued support.

Ben Davis
Founder, Intuition Ale Works

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Beer News

 

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