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Craft beer lovers and brewers in David vs. Goliath fight in Tallahassee

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Florida House Bill 1329, introduced by Republican House Representative Ray Wesley Rodrigues, will be discussed in Tallahassee tomorrow, March 24, 2014, in the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee at 3 p.m. The bill would add tremendous regulations for the popular small and micro-brewery industry in Florida with legislation aimed at making their business more difficult to run. The unnecessary regulations are at the behest of large scale breweries as we wrote last month.

Although Republicans have a reputation for lobbying for less regulation, many Republican state legislators have so far fallen in line favoring increasing regulations this legislative session. The fight tomorrow is between the small breweries and the large brewers who are lobbying for protectionist style regulation and are using Republicans to do it. The craft brewers are looking for freedom to operate their businesses while HB 1329 further restricts their ability to compete.

Specifically HB 1329, the bill would add these regulations to Florida statutes:

  • Eliminates the use of a 128 ounce (gallon) "growler"
  • Creates a specific, restrictive definition of a growler (not currently defined in Florida law)
  • The bill would prohibit breweries from also opening a winery which is currently permitted under Florida law
  • Creates a grandfather clause as of July 1, 2014, and permits breweries that are currently opened and licensed to maintain their current license structure but prohibits them from obtaining any other vendor licenses after that date, which prohibits a brewery from expanding their business
  • Stops breweries, even those with current vendor licenses, from selling any alcoholic beverages to go with the exception of "growlers" filled only with beer made at that location. Current law allows a brewery to sell beer to go in and even wine and spirits if they have the correct vendor license
  • Specifically prohibits a brewery from selling a collaboration beer even if the beer was brewed and bottled at that current location which is currently allowed
  • “Allows” breweries to conduct free beer tastings at their own location even though they already can. The change codifies an activity which is unnecessary
  • Exempts distributors from the ‘come-to-rest’ requirement for beer purchased from licensed Florida manufacturers
  • Permits growler sales only at breweries or vendors with quota licenses. This would prevent specialty beer businesses from selling growlers which is seen as a gift to large scale breweries
  • Requires breweries to fill growlers according to “food safety conditions as determined by a county or incorporated municipality” creating a labyrinth of different regulations around the state for growlers. It is also seen as unnecessary as no complaints have been filed against breweries who have served food
  • Creates heightened requirements that a growler be sealed with a “tamperproof, tamper-evident seal” and include the already mandatory federal requirements; also, it effectively prohibits anyone else from selling a growler other than the brewery/vendor even if empty – i.e., a store could not sell empty growlers.
  • Makes it a second degree felony if a brewery or quota licensed vendor does not adhere to every one of the new growler restrictions

The craft brewers are supporting House Bill 283 and House Bill 387 which would help expand their business' marketing efforts. HB 283 would allow breweries to sell 1/2 gallon "growlers" and HB 387 would allow tastings of their products at other venues than their own such as at a grocery or convenience store, so long as the establishment is properly licensed.

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