Business

Siesta Key-based Drum Circle Distilling finds way around alcohol sales regulation

SARASOTA -- The Florida Legislature loosened regulations on distilleries last session, but they might get a bit more than they bargained for, at least from Sarasota-based Drum Circle Distilling.

The governor signed a bill into law in May that allows distilleries to sell two bottles per label per calendar year directly to consumers. The new law increased the amount from a two-bottle maximum per customer per year, allowing customers to buy two of each separately branded product.

Troy Roberts, founder and CEO of Drum Circle Distilling, the producers of award-winning Siesta Key Rum, said they're going to take that a step further.

"The way the law is written, it says you can buy two of each 'branded product,' and a branded product is defined effectively as a different federally approved label," Roberts said. "So what we're going to do, which I've wanted to do for a long time anyway, is a series of labels."

Roberts plans to do one series of labels featuring Florida sea and wildlife, for example.

"Then you can buy two of each label," he said.

Siesta Key Rum currently comes in five flavors: toasted coconut, spiced, beer-barrel spiced, gold and silver. The gold and silver can usually be found at liquor stores, where there are no limits on the amount consumers can buy. But the other flavors sell incredibly quickly, sometimes only making it to the distillery floor before they're gone.

The law defines a branded product as, "any distilled spirits product manufactured on site, which

requires a federal certificate and label approval by the Federal Alcohol Administrations Act or regulations."

Marc Soss, a Lakewood-Ranch based attorney focused on business regulation, said the ambiguous language means Roberts could run into legal issues.

"I have some concerns," Soss said. "Any distilled spirits product refers to a specific product, and having a different brand on it doesn't change that it's the same product."

But Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who has been pushing to lift all limits on distillery sales, said he agrees with Roberts' interpretation.

"If he gets those labels approved by the feds, I think he's good to go," Steube said. "The (Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation) would be the ones to decide how to interpret that, and my gut tells me they'll be fine with federal approval."

The limits on distilleries are part of a three-tier system in Florida, which has specific regulations to manufacturers, distributors and vendors in the alcohol industry. The easing on manufacturer selling limits was a compromise between keeping the strict standards of the three-tier system and opening the market completely, which is what lawmakers like Steube want.

"Honestly, I think it's ridiculous that we tell our businesses what they can or can't sell," Steube said. "It's absurd, and quite frankly I think it's un-American."

Steube said if the DBPR has no issue with the multiple-label idea, he's positive the Florida House would not try to limit the practice during its next session. However, there is a possibility that a vendor, who could lose money under this practice, may challenge the issue in court.

DBPR did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Designer labels

Roberts said they're having an illustrator design a series of labels -- probably about five for each of their most popular flavors. But once that gets going, he wants to look at local artists who might be interested in designing labels.

"This allows people to buy more and we get to do a really cool artist series," Roberts said. "We'd like to do some guest artists, and do artist series. That'd be kind of fun."

The new law's loophole comes just in time for Drum Circle, as its space recently more than doubled and will take production from 60,000 bottles a year to 100,000. With the new labels, which Roberts said should take another three or four months, the increase in production will mean more money directly to Drum Circle, rather than to vendors.

"We won't have to spend too much on designs, or on getting the labels approved, but buying each individual label in less bulk could have some costs," Roberts said. "But the amount of product we'll be able to sell directly will more than make up for it."

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at kirby@bradenton.com. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby

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