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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Politics

Putnam: Craft beer may join OJ as ‘Fresh From Florida’


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TALLAHASSEE — It’s not just for breakfast anymore: Florida’s newest craft beers soon could be joining orange juice in sporting the state’s Fresh From Florida seal.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam this week said craft brewers have approached his office seeking to use the label as a marketing tool. It’s already on some Florida wines, he said.

“We certainly are supportive of designing a program that would allow them to do that,” Putnam said. His department manages the state’s Florida Agricultural Promotional Campaign and the Fresh From Florida slogan and logo is its hallmark.

The problem lies with an informal advisory issued before Putnam’s time in office that said beer couldn’t be called “fresh from Florida” unless 51 percent of ingredients were grown in the state. Most beer ingredients, especially hops, aren’t grown here.

Putnam’s regulators are sorting out the details, but how it plays out could mean serious money to the growing craft beer industry in the state. The colorful logo calls attention to products and boosts profits.

At a recent exposition in Boston, nine Florida companies who use the Fresh From Florida stamp on their seafood reported more than $25 million in sales, according to Putnam’s office.

With beer, “it becomes sort of an issue of, how do we make that work?” Putnam said. Because it’s made solely from grapes, “the wine, if it’s 100 percent a Florida product, it’s easy.”

Only a handful of craft brewers are officially Fresh From Florida, including Orlando Brewing, the first Florida beer company to be certified, according to its website.

Justin Clark, vice president of the Florida Brewers Guild, which represents nearly 50 of the state’s craft brewers, said his members will “support anything that will make that happen.”

“We’re proud to have a product made in Florida,” said Clark, who also is vice president of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. “When it leaves the state, it would be pretty cool to have something that signifies a Florida product and promotes the whole state.”

Will Lawson, owner of Naples Beach Brewery, said he’s intrigued but doesn’t think he would be able to benefit.

He doesn’t yet package his beer, instead selling his brews only from kegs, though he expects his offerings to be in cans and bottles by year’s end when he moves into a bigger brewhouse.

But every ingredient that goes into his beers, including the hops from Washington state and barley from the United Kingdom, comes from somewhere other than Florida.

“I just don’t know how it works for beer,” Lawson said.

The answer: It isn’t easy.

John Cheek, president of Orlando Brewing, said it’s tough to source locally grown ingredients for beer. Some of his products also have the “organic” logo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the same time, being able to stamp beer as Florida fresh “became a point of recognition,” Cheek said. “People see that and they like it.”

He offered a solution to the ingredient conundrum. Since beer is 95 to 97 percent water, using water from the state’s aquifers should be enough to qualify beer as a Florida product, Cheek suggested.

At least one Big Beer interest was caught off guard by the news.

Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors, said he wasn’t aware of the effort to brand craft beer as Fresh From Florida.

“I couldn’t take a position until I put that before my board of directors,” he said.

Clark said an approval to use the logo will help his sales to those who want an authentic taste of the state.

“Local beer is on the rise,” he said. “Having that seal would say to the consumer that a beer is made in Florida, not just brought in to be sold or consumed here.”

Putnam said his office needs to “figure out a way to identify items that are substantially Florida or majority Florida but include components” from elsewhere. “We’re working through that internally.”

It’s a good problem to have, he added.

“People are seeking out to use the Fresh From Florida logo because they believe it adds value to their product,” Putnam said. “That tells me we’re doing something right.”

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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