Florida must not have got the memo that there is a craft beer revolution going on. As the rest of the country eases regulations to allow these small, independent businesses flourish, certain entities in Florida are looking to slap wrists.
For years now, there has been a battle just to allow 64-ounce growler sales (heaven forbid!), and the latest controversy goes beyond growler sales, to a much more insidious enemy: tasting rooms (grab the vapors!).
So, just what are these dangerous “tasting rooms”? Well, they are places where small businesses allow customers to come inside their doors, sample their product and then, sometimes, buy that product and take it home. Such radical practices have obviously caused groups and associations to file suit and demand clarification of regulations.
The entities looking to curtail the willy nilly licensing of tasting rooms are looking to do so because tasting rooms represent a circumvention the three-tier system, which would will lead to “excesses such as overly aggressive marketing, monopolistic practices and intemperance,” according to one petition. And just who is worried about these monopolies being built at these corner bars?
The Retail Beverage Council of Florida Retail Federation Inc. and the Florida Independent Spirits Association both filed lawsuits against Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Industry of Florida, which represent distributors of the major beer brands, have also filed petitions.
“We’re not asking for them to withdraw any licenses. Moving forward, we’re asking them to stop issuing licenses as of right now under their current practices and to design a rule that better explains how the law should be applied,” said Samantha Padgett, a lawyer with the retail federation.
Craft breweries in Florida have been opening tasting rooms in part because of a tourism exception that was first put into place when Anheuser-Busch wanted to sell beer at its Busch Gardens amusement park. The exception allows manufacturers to receive a vendor license to sell malt beverages on-site. Those in opposition say that tasting rooms are in violation of this exception because they do not promote state brewery and tourist industries, which was vaguely part of the original intent of the tourism exception.
There is more legalese to it than that, but you get the idea.
The Florida Brewers Guild isn’t bottling up on the issue. The group has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $100,000 to save all of the state’s breweries from a lawsuit. From the guild, on the crowdfunding campaign:
Recently, the very industry we work to protect has come under attack. Retail and distributor groups have filed a lawsuit against the Division of Alcoholic Beverages. Potential negative outcomes for new and existing Florida craft breweries include:
- Loss of ability to obtain a vendor license. This means no more tasting rooms.
- All current vendor licenses issued to breweries could be revoked.
- Onsite sales of pints, growler fills, or beers-to-go could be terminated.
Jobs would be lost. FL’s economy would suffer. Beer tourism would grind to a halt.
This is completely different from lobbying the legislature, this is real litigation in court. It means we need financial resources to join the lawsuit to help fight alongside the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and protect brewery rights to a tasting room.
The cost to fight this lawsuit could easily exceed $100,000. And unfortunately, this may not be our only battle in 2015. Funds raised from this campaign will be used directly for mounting legal defense, legal offense, and lobbying.
Far be it for the humble editors at Craft Brewing Business to tell anyone what to do, but it seems there is a sensible solution here — one that preserves tasting rooms and growler sales and also allows retailers and wholesalers to prosper as well. The three-tier system seems to be working just fine in other pro-craft beer states in the union. Florida should be no exception. The sunshine state has seen its craft brewery population jump from six in 2007 to 90 at last check. Might make sense to keep a good thing going.