Beer distributors OK with 64-oz growlers … but they haven’t changed their minds!

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If you ask any craft beer brewer, making delicious beer is an art. Well, in Florida, so too is selling craft beer.

First, craft breweries are part of a three-tiered system that basically requires them to sell their brews to distributors who then sell them back to the brewer. The exceptions are growlers – those neato-looking glass jugs you can fill up, take home and bring back again later – to-go beer. Those come in quart and gallon-sizes, but not half-gallon.

Why? Because the Florida Legislature is either full of a bunch of dunces or they’re too busy pandering to the big guys who profit from the state’s current ban on 64-ounce growlers. The middle guy, in this case, has come out the winner during two separate, back-to-back legislative sessions.

But, in some good news for local brewers like Cigar City in Tampa and Green Bench in St. Pete, the proverbial middleman is giving them a ray of fermented hope. In a press release Monday, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents distributors, announced its support for a stand-alone growler bill that would lift the restriction on 64-ounce growlers.

Though it may seem a change of stance, the FBWA is only switching gears on a tiny part of the bigger issue. Their main concern is that the three-tier system stay in place for packaged and sealed brews.

“We believe it is now time to separate the growler issue from the larger conversation,” FBWA executive director Mitch Rubin said. “Our support for growlers recognizes that allowing these new carry-out sizes offers some challenges – all of which can easily be overcome with some simple, sensible requirements.”

Those include creating a new section of law that expressly authorizes and governs growlers as separate from manufacturer sealed containers. They ask that growlers be made of glass, ceramic or metal – you know, for safety and sanitary reasons as well as other sanitary regulations.

“In short, with these few logical suggestions for maintaining product integrity and public safety, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association supports a stand-alone bill that would authorize a 64-ounce growler,” Rubin said. “And, of equal importance, we hope lawmakers will consider such a bill as a stand-alone product to avoid the larger, more complex issues surrounding the manufacturing, distribution and sale of beer and other malt beverages.”

Translation: Keep your hands off our distribution rights and bottom line!

Previous legislation that failed included one bill that would have allowed brewers to use the 64-ounce growlers, but it would have included the growlers in the same restrictions applied to canned and bottled brews. That was a no-go, much to the pleasure of the craft beer industry. Another bill again would have let the little guys sell their growlers, but it would have shut down tasting rooms popular at such breweries. Again, that failed miserably.

Whether or not Florida lawmakers can come up with something more basic that would appease everyone is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain – only in Florida do elected officials argue over beer for not one, not two, but three consecutive years.

Cheers!

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.