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Sunday, Apr 21, 2019
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Craft beer regulation dead in House, Rep. Young says

A legislative effort to regulate Florida’s craft beer industry passed the Senate Tuesday – and is likely dead on arrival once it gets to the House.

Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican and deputy leader of the chamber’s controlling party, has been a fiercely loyal friend to Florida’s craft brewers.

She said procedural hurdles will almost certainly keep the measure off the House floor between now and the end of the yearly legislative session on Friday.

The bill (SB 1714) doesn’t have a House companion, Young noted, “and I don’t see a way around that.”

Young also said she had worked for six hours on Sunday, revising the bill for its sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

“She asked for my help, agreed to every suggestion, and then ignored 95 percent of what I suggested,” Young said.

The Senate bill, approved by a 30-10 vote, restricts brewers making more than 2,000 kegs a year – or 31,000 U.S. gallons – from selling no more than 20 percent of their beverages themselves.

Now, brewers can sell beer from their tap rooms without restraint, regardless of how much beer they produce per year. On-site sales can include canned and bottled beers, as well as draft.

Stargel said she wants to preserve the state’s three-tier alcoholic beverage regulation system.

“It does no harm to any of the existing breweries in Florida,” she said in debate. “The law is not clear; they’re working in a loophole. I am giving them clarity.”

Generally, the idea to come out of Prohibition was that producers, including brewers, should sell only to wholesale distributors. Distributors then would sell to retailers, who would sell to consumers.

The idea was that nobody in one tier could create a monopoly or unduly influence anyone in another tier, especially on pricing and availability of product.

Ironically, it was Anheuser-Busch – which sees craft beer as a competitive threat – that first got an exception carved out in the system.

Florida liquor law was changed in the 1960s to allow Tampa’s Busch Gardens, then owned by Anheuser-Busch, to serve beer at the theme park’s hospitality centers.

That same exception later allowed brewers like Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing to open tasting rooms next to their brewhouses, introducing visitors to their beer and letting them buy it there to take home.

The exception requires beer makers to have “a single complex, which property shall include a brewery and such other structures which promote the brewery and the tourist industry of the state.”

Joey Redner, Cigar City’s owner, said he wasn’t “going to lose any sleep” if the measure were to become law. He’s on track to produce 100,000-110,000 kegs this year, he said.

But 37 other states don’t place limits on sales related to amount of beer production “and we’re all competing against them,” Redner said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, has defended the craft beer cause this session, initially trying to just legalize the half-gallon refillable beer containers called growlers.

Stargel’s bill, he said, signals that “when I grow to a certain level, I might threaten my competition and have to change the way I do business.”

People see the bill for what it is, Latvala added: “An attack on craft beer to protect distributors.”

Not so, distributors said.

The bill “will ensure that many of the current three-tier protections for brewers, distributors, retailers and consumers will remain in place,” according to the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors.

“The Stargel bill gives brewers a great deal of latitude in selling directly to consumers and addresses many of the craft brewers’ concerns without completely destroying Florida’s modern three-tier system,” said Mitch Rubin, the group’s director, in a statement.

Stargel also said craft beermakers “don’t want a bill” and didn’t participate in the bill process. She likened her dealings with them to a mother trying to discipline unruly children.

And at some point, a mother has to say, “I believe I know what’s best,” she said.

Once again, craft beer concerns went apoplectic on social media. The Florida Brewers Guild, representing the state’s craft breweries, contested her side of the story.

“Guess our emails, meetings in her office, and phone calls don’t count to Sen. Stargel!” said a tweet from its official account.

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