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Monday, May 21, 2018
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‘Beer wars’ continue in Capitol

A bill that would allow half-gallon beer growlers in Florida has again been larded with regulations that will affect the state’s growing craft beer industry, brewers said.

The latest version of SB 1714 discussed by the Florida Senate on Monday would allow a brewery to continue selling its beer without going through distributors and retailers.

And the latest catch is that if the brewer makes more than 2,000 kegs – or 31,000 U.S. gallons – per year, then it can sell no more than 20 percent of its product on site.

Many of Florida’s bigger, more successful craft beermakers already make much more than that.

The Florida Brewers Guild, the craft beer lobby group, continues to oppose the measure, pushed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

Stargel has taken political contributions from big beer distributors, campaign finance records show.

Response from brewers on social media was swift.

“Senate continues to push unneeded restrictions on craft brewers. How does placing restrictions on growing business ‘help’ them grow?” the Guild tweeted from its official account.

Other senators friendly to small business also questioned the need for the bill.

“Why don’t we just do the growler bill and be done?” asked Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

Stargel countered that craft brewers oppose her bill because they just “don’t want to be regulated.”

That led Fort Myers Brewing to tweet, “You gotta be kidding.”

The bill now is set up for a final vote. The legislative session is scheduled to end Friday.

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UPDATE: Stargel issued a statement late Monday, in part saying, “Craft breweries are a burgeoning industry in the State of Florida and this good bill ensures that they are legally operating under the context of the law – not in a grey area.

“Currently, craft breweries operate under a tourism exemption and this bill simply clarifies and codifies this licensure, so this industry can continue to prosper and grow under the law,” she added.

An exception to Florida liquor law first enabled Tampa’s Busch Gardens, then owned by Anheuser-Busch, to serve beer at the theme park’s hospitality centers.

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

Over the years, the exception was changed to require 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.”

Stargel’s bottom line: “This bill would allow all breweries to sell an unlimited amount of what they brew in their taprooms, sell an unlimited amount of what they brew in 32-, 64- and 128-ounce growlers, and sell an unlimited amount of guest tap beer for on-site consumption.

“Further, these breweries can sell up to 20 percent of their on-site production in cans, bottles and even 15.5 gallon kegs annually. In addition, small breweries are not even limited by the 20 percent of their brew; they could sell an unlimited amount in cans and bottles for off-site consumption.”