In what has to be the new poster child of the laws of unintended consequences, craft beer brewers and their beer-drinking enthusiasts have to be scratching their heads and asking, “What happened?”
Craft brewers — or microbrewers — had gotten the Florida Legislature to consider a bill to allow the sale of growlers, half-gallon sized containers of beer that are prohibited by state law. Along with Florida, growlers are illegal in only two other states.
But before the growler bill they were advocating got to a vote, the Senate Rules Committee passed an amended bill that would allow the sale of growlers but would also heavily restrict the sale of virtually all craft beer sold by microbrewers.
The devil is in the details.
SB 1714 would permit the sale of growlers by microbrewers who sell fewer than 2,000 kegs of beer per year. So far so good, but not great. Brewers producing more than 2,000 kegs per year would be permitted to sell growlers, but they would also be required to distribute all of their beers, regardless of size, through an established beer distributor.
The effect of the distribution requirement would be higher costs to consumers, since the beer distributors would be due a large cut for their role as a middle man. Adding insult to injury, any microbrewery in the state producing over 2,000 kegs would have to sell its beer to the distributor and then buy it back (after a mark-up from the distributor), to sell their own beer in their own microbrewery.
Is it any wonder we call it the “Flori-duh” Legislature?
The bill is being pushed by the Florida Beer Wholesaler’s Association, the lobbying group of the beer distributors who seek to gain from putting microbrewers out of business or gaining profits as the middle men between craft brewers and their customers.
The sponsor of the bill in the Senate is Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and it is supported by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Stargel has received over $6,500 in contributions from beer distributors.
Gaetz received over $8,000 in contributions from beer distributors in the 2012 cycle. One of his closest pals is Anheuser-Busch distributor Lewis Bear, who gave him $2,000.
Normally one would expect Republicans such as Stargel and Gaetz to take a pro-consumer, pro-small-business approach to legislation, but their shameless efforts to hurt microbrewers shows they, like many Republicans in Florida and across the country, are far more concerned with protecting big business and their corporate campaign contributors than they are with creating opportunities for small businesses and real choices for consumers.
Whether the bill becomes law hinges on several factors, including the governor (who could veto it), and the House of Representatives. For any bill to get to the governor’s desk it would have to pass both chambers, and there is not a companion bill in the House.
If beer drinkers want to keep cracking a cold craft beer, they better hope Republicans in the House have better sense about putting the interests of big corporations and campaign contributors over the interests of small business owners — and the beer- drinking public.
As a Republican, I can’t help but feel betrayed. As a craft beer enthusiast, I can’t help but know I won’t be voting to re-elect any Republican who favors Anheuser-Busch and the Florida Beer Wholesaler’s Association over microbrewers and my right to drink a beer without unnecessary added costs.
With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?
Chris Ingram is a columnist, consultant and political analyst for Bay News 9.