Beer bills advance in state House

HERALD STAFF and WIRE REPORTSFebruary 15, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- Bradenton microbrewers hope that a state bill to allow 64-ounce "growlers" passes this year.

A state House panel was all about beer Tuesday, advancing three malt beverage-related bills, including a measure to allow sales of 64-ounce "growlers."

Among the three bills, an overarching committee bill would address several factors, including safety, tastings and growler sales. The bill would explicitly define a growler as a 32-ounce, 64-ounce, 128-ounce, 1-liter or 2-liter container made to "hold malt beverages."

The 64-ounce size is standard for growlers, according to a staff analysis of the bill. The brewers have pushed for legalization of the larger size since last year after only being allowed to sell 32-ounce or gallon growlers.

This is an especially important issue to local brewers who have recently dotted Bradenton's landscape.

"That's our biggest profit margin, especially with a resubale vessel like a growler," said Florida Brewers Guild member Michal Wagner, who plans to open Little Giant Brewery at 301 Seventh St. E, in May. Bradenton already has one operating brewery, Motorworks Brewing, 1014 9th St. W, Darwin Brewing Co., 803 17th St. W, expects to open in late March/early April.

Growlers are vital to brewery culture as customers pride themselves on refilling empty growlers at new breweries to take a batch of beer home to friends, he added.

Wagner said it's difficult to find growlers he wants that are legal in Florida because the growlers sold at brewery conventions are in the industry standard 64 ounces.

"Gallons are great, but the industry standard is 64 ounces, so when we go to conferences or talk to vendors about that, there's a lot of really cool and interesting 64 ouncers made that don't apply to Florida because we can't have them here," he said.

The bill also would allow beer manufacturers to run a tap room and sell beer to patrons without a vendor's license. The beer could be sold for on- and off-premise consumption. Phone or mail orders would not be allowed. That wouldn't affect the Bradenton breweries, Wagner said, because each brewery has a license to sell beers from other manufacturers.

The manufacturer would brew the beer sold in the tap room on site or ship it in from another brewery it owns. At least 70 percent of the annual tap room sales would need to be brewed on site.

Off-premise consumption sales would be limited to growlers and other authorized containers.

The bill also would allow manufacturers and distributors to hold on-premise beer tastings.

Brewers largely support the bill but want some minor adjustments.

"We're very much in favor of the work you're doing," said Craig Birkmaier, vice president of Florida Brewers Guild. "Obviously, we have positions and would like to work with you to tweak the bill to meet all of those."

The bill was opposed by an anti-drug and alcohol group.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson noted both sides of the industry -- retailers and brewers -- still had concerns about the legislation. And even though the bill sailed through the Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee, the Democratic ranking member from St. Petersburg indicated his caucus may have problems with it down the road.

The bill "impacts not just the distributors and the brewers, but also has impact on the consumer, who I think at the end of the day is the most important person that we need to be concerned about," Rouson said.

Chairman Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, pointed out a growler bill was filed last year, which the committee did not take up. She said it would have affected more than just growlers, impacting the state's three-tier system for beer sales -- manufacturers with vendor's licenses, tap rooms attached to a manufactures' premises and brew pubs that sell beer brewed on site.

Mayfield said the bill was "very difficult" to craft and draws a "very fine line."

"We were coming from the standpoint of trying to protect the three-tiered system -- at the same time of allowing an industry to grow," she said.

The committee also passed a bill (HB 387), which would put more precise language on in-store tastings.

The third bill the committee approved would let beer be sold in any size - including any size growler - at retail stores in the state.

--Herald business reporter Charles Schelle and The News Herald (Panama City.) contributed to this report.

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