Big beer bills are continuing to bluster their way through state government, leaving local breweries, brewpubs and craft beer drinkers still clouded with disappointment.
Although efforts to permit the 64-ounce growler were presented in a bill in the House of Representatives previously, the legislation was peppered with unclear language and stipulations that left state breweries severely limited.
The House bill has been squashed for now, but a new bill in the Senate, SB 1714, is presenting the brew community with similar regulations and issues.
The bill allows the sale of half-gallon growlers, but numerous limitations on distribution practices are written into the legislation.
For example, the bill mandates breweries sell bottles and cans to distributors. To sell to their own customers, they must buy the stock back. Most of the time, this includes a significant markup in price.
It also prevents brewers from opening wineries or cideries.
Barron Humphries, owner of Hoggetowne Ale Works, said the bill is written this way because some legislators want to ensure the three-tier system stands strong, despite most breweries thinking the system is outdated.
“If you have 10 different breweries in a room together talking, they’re all going to say the system is garbage,” he said. “(This bill) means more regulation and more loopholes to jump through.”
Joshua Aubuchon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild, summarized the bill’s regulations as “punitive.”
He said if breweries want to sell their beer and then have to buy it back from distributors, not only is the mark-up price a factor, but also, distributors don’t necessarily have to do anything with the beer.
In other words, they just pocket the extra money.
“(Distributors) would make more money without having to do a thing,” Aubuchon said. “Under current law, Swamp Head (and other local breweries) doesn’t need to sell bottles to distributors. Why would that be in the bill other than to be punitive?”
He said another issue with the bill is unclear language that would make anything not specifically authorized in the legislation prohibited, which could stifle creativity.
At the local level, Neal Mackowiak, a brewer for Tall Paul’s Brew House, said he is unhappy about the bill because the brewpub had plans to expand into a brewery in the future.
“Ultimately, the idea was to become a brewery … similar to Swamp Head,” he said. “When we were told of what this Senate bill was, we realized it was a hugely limiting factor for us.”
Mackowiak said he dislikes that beer doesn’t need to switch hands for the distributors to make extra money.
“We basically just write a check to the distributor to sell our beer,” he said. “It almost seems like mob-like tactics — that you need the security of (distributors) to be able to run your business.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/17/2014 under the headline "Senate bill could mark up costs for local craft breweries"]