Dana Young takes Mitch Rubin at his word on growlers

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Earlier this week Mitch Rubin, the executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA), announced that while “for several years,” his organization has supported lifting the restriction on 64-ounce growlers, the FBWA’s support in next year’s legislative session won’t be tied into his greater concerns of direct brewer to consumer sales.

Tampa House Republican Dana Young, who has sponsored legislation in the House the past few years on legalizing 64-ounce growlers, said she’s feeling more optimistic about the bill’s chance for success in 2015. “What happened is that the public from the grassroots level stood up and said, ‘this is absurd. This law is absurd, this obstructionist view of it is absurd, and we want it changed.'”

Although the issue came up during the 2013 legislative session in a bill sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the growing popularity of the craft brew industry (particularly in the Tampa Bay area) in 2014 brought a whole new level of attention to the issue- and it wasn’t favorable to the Big Beer Establishment.

The controversy centered around Lakeland Senate Republican Kelli Stargel’s bill (supported by Rubin’s group) that would require microbreweries in the state selling more than 2,000 kegs per year of their own brew to distribute their bottled and canned products through an established distributorship and then have to buy back their own product (at marked-up prices) to sell to their customers.

The story, as Cigar City Brewing’s Joey Redner said at the time, was a classic David vs. Goliath scenario of a big establishment organization seemingly ganging up on the little guy, or in this case, small popular businesses.

“When it comes from the ground up like that, I think it’s incredibly powerful,” says Young about the opposition that built up on the issue this past spring, bringing people normally disaffected by state politics to rally behind the craft breweries. Speaking today during a break at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting at the HCC-Dale Mabry campus, Young said, “I think that what happened is that a lot of the opposition was hearing from their customers and business partners that this was bad policy, so it appears from the press release that they are interested in legalizing the 64-ounce growler attached. If that is indeed the case, I think that we’re in a great position to get it done.”

A year ago Rubin sat down with this reporter at Great Bay Distributors in Largo, where he explained that while the FBWA was completely in support of the 64-ounce growlers (and was unhappy about what he said was inaccurate  press coverage to the contrary), his group’s concerns were about the use of “guest taps” in craft breweries.  He said that for strategic and tactical reasons his association “had to be” opposed to the 64-ounce growler in 2013, but that his concerns were more existential —that those guest taps were wreaking havoc on the three-tier system, the long-established system in America on how alcohol is sold and distributed, and which separates retailers from distributors from  manufacturers.

In that same article in Creative Loafing, Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, called Rubin a “master at disinformation and just throwing a whole bunch of information out there to confuse people.” He was unavailable for comment today on what he thinks of Rubin’s recent statement.

Aubuchon’s comments a year ago proved prescient when the legislative session began a few months later, as Rubin’s concerns had changed. Now it was no longer guest taps, but the beer itself that craft breweries sold that was his group’s focus attached to conceding the growler issue. Stargel’s bill would have forced the breweries to give a cut of their profits over a certain amount back to the distributors. The bill ultimately died.

But now Rubin says there are no strings attached.

Representative Dana Young says that if Rubin wants to address the Legislature next year on other concerns about the three-tier distribution system, “We will as as a legislature give them every opportunity to present their issues to our committees and I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.