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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

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‘Big Beer’ wins a round in legislative battle with Fla. microbreweries


Published:

A bill that would require craft brewers to sell their suds to a beer distributor and make them buy it back to sell at their own breweries has cleared a Senate panel.

The measure (SB 1714) has so infuriated craft brewers and beer enthusiasts that some on Twitter have christened it with the hashtag “#growlergate.”

The Community Affairs committee approved the bill Tuesday.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was so incensed at the idea of craft brewers having to pay someone else to sell their own product that he likened it to a mobbed-up racket. Latvala has championed the microbrewery cause.

The requirement is similar to paying “protection to ‘Vinnie’ in New York,” he said.

The bill also is favored by the Big Beer lobby, which is feeling the heat from craft beer’s competition.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is sponsoring the bill, which also allows the most popular size of beer “growlers,” the 64-ounce size (that’s a half-gallon).

Growlers are jugs, usually made of glass, in which brewers sell their beer when drawn from a tap.

State law allows 32-ounce (quart-size) and 128-ounce (gallon-size) growlers, but not the 64-ounce, considered the industry standard.

Stargel said the distributing requirement for craft beer was to uphold the state’s three-tier system of alcoholic beverage regulation.

As the Tampa Tribune previously has explained:

> After the country’s failed experiment with Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, states wanted to make sure no one – like mobsters – had monopoly control over booze.

> They created a three-level system in which producers, including brewers, could sell only to wholesale distributors. The distributors then would sell to the retailers, and only retailers could sell to consumers. The idea was that nobody in one tier could unduly influence anyone in another, especially on pricing.

Stargel’s bill doesn’t even require distributors to haul the craft brewers’ kegs back to a warehouse before selling it back to them. In state law, that’s known as a “come to rest” provision.

Latvala tried to change the bill to make them do so; the amendment failed.

The bill heads next to the Rules committee. The chair of that panel, St. Augustine Republican John Thrasher, favors the bill as is.

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