TALLAHASSEE — Floridians could be sampling beer at supermarkets and “big box” stores like Costco under a bill now being considered by state lawmakers.
The Senate Regulated Industries committee on Thursday approved the measure (SB 470) on a 10-0 vote.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, would repeal the prohibition against beer tastings at places where beer is sold for drinking off-premises.
That includes stores such as Publix and Sam’s Club, she said. Current law allows only wine and liquor tastings.
“It doesn’t seem to be consistent or make any sense to me that you can have wine tastings but you can’t have beer tastings,” she said. “And craft beer seems to be a growth industry in Florida.”
Josh Aubuchon of the Florida Brewers Guild, which represents craft brewers, says his group “supports the basic principle of fairness in the alcohol business.”
Craft brewers already use an exception to Florida liquor law that enables them to open tasting rooms next to their brewhouses. Allowing beer tastings elsewhere could help increase sales and expand market share.
The bill applies to “distributors and vendors,” not manufacuturers.
Mitch Rubin, executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, told the panel he’d like beer makers themselves to be allowed to put on tastings.
That had Detert frowning.
What began as a common-sense fix, “is turning into, as we can all see, a beer ‘food fight,’” Detert said. “I’m happy to hear that all the lobbyists will be writing amendments. I look forward to reading (them).”
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, voted for the bill despite concerns it might allow tastings in convenience stores. Detert said she’d add a requirement that a store be a certain size to qualify.
Drug Free Duval, an alcohol and substance abuse prevention group, opposes all alcoholic-beverage tastings at places other than bars and liquor stores, said Susan Pitman, its executive director.
She’s concerned the measure would contribute to alcohol’s growing presence in society. She said she’s seen hard drinks being served at fun runs and family centers.
“There’s just a subtle increase in the availability of alcohol in places that generally didn’t have alcohol,” she told lawmakers.
Detert said she’s not much of a drinker herself, and her son often kids her that the same “one beer” is in her refrigerator from the last time he visited.
When Thrasher suggested she drink it, Detert cracked, “Are you trying to mellow me out here?”
The committee was scheduled to consider another bill that allows craft brewers to sell beer by the half-gallon, in 64-ounce “growler” jugs, but that measure was postponed.
Florida law already allows bigger and smaller growlers, quart-size at 32 ounces and gallon-size at 128 ounces, but the prohibited 64-ounce is the most popular around the country.