Jack Latvala & craft brew community hope 2015 is the year that 64-ounce growlers are no longer banned in Florida

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For the average Floridian, much if not most of what takes place in Tallahassee isn’t something that usually captures their imagination – until months or perhaps years later when the true effects of some law hits them in their wallet.

But the battle between Big Beer and the craft brewing industry during last year’s legislative session was followed closely by the public, as craft beer enthusiasts become angered and disillusioned about how a simple bill to allow for the legal sale of 64-ounce growlers was killed due to inside Tallahassee politics.

For the uninitiated, a growler is a refillable container or vessel into which tap beer is poured for home consumption. Florida is one of only two states in the country (Utah is the other) that doesn’t allow for the legal sale of such containers.

So today state Senator Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater and Representative Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor announced that they are filing identical bills to be considered in next year’s session that will clarify the law to allow for the legal selling of 64-ounce growlers.

“I don’t think there’s a reason in the world why Florida should be one of only two states in this entire country that doesn’t allow for 64-ounce growlers,” Latvala said while speaking in the middle of the intimate Dunedin Brewery in north Pinellas County. He added the only reason is “protectionism, protecting monopolies in the distributor world. I just don’t think there’s a reason to justify it.”

Latvala has introduced similar legislation the past two years, but said he feels extremely confident that it will finally pass in 2015.

One reason for that optimism is that last week Mitch Rubin, executive director with the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, released a statement last week affirming that his organization would absolutely not stand in the way of growler legislation next year. That was a significant admission, since Rubin is considered to be the man solely responsible the past two years from such legislation from occurring. But he did say that he would prefer separate legislation that would address other issues, such as creating a new section of law that expressly authorizes and governs growlers—separate from manufacturer sealed containers; authorizes 32, 64 and 128 ounce growlers made of glass, ceramic or metal requires sanitation and room for expansion to prevent explosions for product integrity and public health; and requires seals and labels for local zoning, open container and public health

“I find it humorous that they’re backing down and saying ‘we’re not going to oppose the 64-ounce bottle, we’re going to say it’s fine, we don’t want any strings attached,'” says Josh Aubuchon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild. “And in the press release it lists all the strings that he wants to attach to legalizing a 64-ounce bottle.”Aubuchon calls it a bit disingenuous, and says that the bills that the FBWA pushed last year to protect the three-tier system ended up “only attacking breweries about what they could or couldn’t do.”

Florida maintains one of the strongest three-tier systems in the country, unlike 36 other states which have passed legislation allowing microbreweries to bypass the three-tier system and deliver their product directly to a vendor.

Tampa House Representative Dana Young has carried the bill in the Legislature the past two years. In 2015 it will be freshman Republican Chris Sprowls, a 30-year-old former prosecutor who is already being groomed for leadership.

“There’s plenty of people who felt that it was an insult to the free market not to be able to get a good product,” Sprowls said about the intense attention brought forth last session from craft beer enthusiasts. “This bill is not only pro free market, ” Sprowls said. “It’s also pro consumer.”

Aubuchon thinks that it’d be best for Rubin to hold off on a second piece of legislation, saying “they’r opening the same trap that they did last year and I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

But Senator Latvala says that Representative Greg Steube, R- Lake Ranch has just  filed a bill dealing with malt beverages. “I think it does a lot of stuff, and I suspect that may be the distributors vehicle,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve agreed to keep the issues separate. However I won’t count my chickens until they hatch.”

The growth of the craft beer industry has been dramatic in recent years in Florida, particularly in the Tampa Bay area. Total economic impacts from the industry were estimated to be at $301 million in 2012 and $432 million in 2013, according to statistics that Latvala referenced in his press release.

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.