Additives Lead Senate to Put Beer 'Growler' Bill on Hold

Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-04 22:21:00-05

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, A heartier beer "growler" bill didn't go down as smooth as some might have expected Wednesday.

The measure (SB 186) was temporarily put on hold at the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, where some proposed changes failed an initial taste test with large distributors and some lawmakers.

"Last year there was a simple 64-ounce growler bill, and I take responsibility for trying to hone in a bazillion different issues into one bill and it got all tied up," Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said. "It kind of looks like, here we go again."

However, Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican sponsoring this year's "growler" bill, disagreed with Stargel that the proposed changes will be as big a hurdle as in past years.

"What's different about this year and last year is, it's up to the distributors to come to the table and bring some reasonable proposals," Latvala said. "It's not the little guy having to figure out how to try to pass something."

Latvala's bill was filed as a straightforward proposal to end the state's prohibition on brewers being able to fill 64-ounce growlers for off-site consumption. Florida allows brewers to fill other size containers, but the half-gallon size is considered the most popular.

Craft brewers have sought the change to allow growlers, but legislative proposals in recent years have been scuttled by large beer distributors. The distributors point to a need to protect the state's Depression-era three-tier regulation system, which requires the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages to be separated.

The proposed changes to the bill would let brewers set up tasting rooms, allow brewers to sell and transport their product between their own sites without a third-party distributor and eliminate a state rule in which brewers have to meet a tourism requirement for their licenses.

Some distributors and retailers on Wednesday painted a picture that some of the proposed changes would end the three-tier system, resulting in a deregulation of the industry that could result in brewers offering home delivery, a claim disputed by the committee's staff.

Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, warned the committee about potential unintended consequences of opening the rules for brewers.

"There was a time when we thought we were doing a favor for small Florida wineries, and pretty soon we had direct shipping of wine from big California wineries," Criss said. "We are still having unlimited direct shipping of wine into the state of Florida, and we don't know how much or when any excises taxes are being collected on that wine."

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