The fate of craft brewing in Florida appears to be at risk, as a new bill recently was brought to the floor in the Florida legislature. The bill calls for new rules to regulate the craft brew business. Craft brewers claim that the bill is ‘extortion’ and that it favors big beer companies. Isn’t regulation always put in place out of fear?
James Stevens, who lives in Crystal River FL, started Nature Coast Brewing Company with his brother last year. He bought a craft brewing license that would let them both make and serve beer on site in a pub owned by a friend. Stevens is a bartender at the pub and he is very into craft beer. He and his brother actually made their own beer at home before they started their own business.
But the bill, SB 1714, would mandate that all craft brewers that make more than 2000 kegs annually to sell their beer to distributors, and then buy it back to sell the beer in a business for consumption off site.
This bill would put these breweries in compliance with Florida’s three tier law. This law mandates that all makers of alcoholic drinks to sell their products to a distributor, who then sells the beer to a retailer.
Stevens complains that the bill will affect the growth of Nature Coast Brewing Company. He will not be able to expand and to create jobs under the proposed rule.
The bill has been favored by GOP state Senator Kelli Stargel. She says that small companies are exploiting a loophole in the law that originally was made so that Busch Gardens would be able to brew and sell beer for customers to drink at home. SB 1714 is designed to add more certainty to the law.
Some suspect that politics is the source of Stargel’s interest in the law. Campaign contribution records indicate that in 2013, Stargel got $5500 from big beer companies and that her campaigns received donations from Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors and Pepin Distributing. These contributions date to 2008.
The involvement of big beer distributors and Stargel’s financial backing by the big beer companies has many small breweries convinced that lawmakers are favoring the big companies.
Others in the FL legislature maintain that the bill attacks small companies to protect the big beer companies. Sen. Jack Latvala has supported another bill that would make 64 ounce beers legal with no further regulations. This proposal however was blocked by the Senate president who also gets campaign donations from big beer companies.
Latvala says that the new law is going to hurt a growing Florida small business. He claims that the most important thing that legislators can do is to help to grow jobs, which he says that these small companies are doing.
Nonetheless, the bill passed the FL senate by 30-10 and now is headed to the House of Representatives. But the bill has little support in the House, and opponents claim that the bill will be scuttled as supporters try to overcome several procedural hurdles that it must get over before the end of the legislative term later this month.
One opponent of the bill worked closely with Stargel to revise the bill, but she says that Stargel then ignored most of her input.
Stargel has changed the bill to let small companies sell 20% of their beer supply in house before selling the balance to distributors.
Nature Coast Brewing has a five year plan so that one day they will have a physical brewery and have the ability to sell their beer to be consumed off site, and then to distribute it to other local bars. But the pending law would wreck these plans.