Growler legalization could be uphill battle

Legalizing 64-ounce growlers won't be easy for lawmakers.

"Sixty four ounce growlers are allowed in 47 other states," Latvala said. "It seems ridiculous that we wouldn't allow them here."


But Florida's had a long and strange history with alcohol legislation. Until 2001, beer could only be sold in 8, 12, 16 and 32 ounce containers. There were fewer Florida breweries then, but the laws prevented some beer from coming in to the state and some beer from leaving. According to Latvala, getting the legislation passed and through the Senate and the House will be no easy task.


"Beer distributors see this from the competition standpoint and they made it difficult to pass it just in the Senate committee," Latvala said. "It hasn't made it to the agenda and it doesn't look like it will."


That's because Florida's beer distributors rely on many of the current regulations to get business. Brewers make the beer and sell it to distributors, who sell it to vendors, who sell it to us — the consumers. The legalization of standard-sized growlers would allow consumers to go directly to the source to get their weekend bottle of beer.


"The distributors are working very hard against it," Latvala said. "There is only so much business out there and the craft brewers are doing more and more business."


Leading the opposition is the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, made up of 24 different distributors including Anheuser-Busch. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Alan Slaw spoke with Mitch Rubin, executive director of the FBWA about their opposition.


"We want clarification of the law at the same time the 64-ounce container is approved," Rubin told Slaw in a telephone interview. "How do you maintain a system when everybody gets to do what they want?"


Rubin's concern is due to the possible dismantling of the three-tier distribution system currently in place. According to Rubin, SB 1344 isn't clear about who can sell growlers. The legislation was amended before passing unanimously in the committee last week. But under the new language, breweries like Cigar City may not be able to sell growlers at all.


Until now, breweries have sold growlers under a tourism exception established by Busch Gardens. But additional language eliminating that exception was also added to the bill. Whether any shred of the bill remains when it gets to Governor Rick Scott's desk, depends entirely on the House.


"I could get it passed in the Senate," Latvala said. "But if the house won't hear the bill, it probably won't move."

click to enlarge The standard growler holds about four beers, but remains illegal in Florida. Legislation in the House and Senate could change that. - steussy.com
steussy.com
The standard growler holds about four beers, but remains illegal in Florida. Legislation in the House and Senate could change that.

click to enlarge The standard growler holds about four beers, but remains illegal in Florida. Legislation in the House and Senate could change that. - steussy.com
steussy.com
The standard growler holds about four beers, but remains illegal in Florida. Legislation in the House and Senate could change that.
  • steussy.com
  • The standard growler holds about four beers, but remains illegal in Florida. Legislation in the House and Senate could change that.

In Florida, there is no tax designation for any beer container that's more than 32 ounces and less than a gallon. Because there's no tax designation, brewers cannot package in that size.

That's problematic for the blossoming brewing industry in the Sunshine State. A standard growler holds 64 ounces of beer or about four glasses of beer, a 32 ounce growler is about two beers, and a gallon growler is about eight beers.

Joey Redner, CEO and founder of Cigar City Brewing, said people on vacation (otherwise known as beer tourists) bring their 64 ounce growlers from home, and Cigar City must refuse to fill them.

"Some people think we were just trying to sell them a new 32 ounce growler," Redner said during our interview last month. "But then we have to explain that it's actually illegal for us to fill that size."

Senate Bill 1344, which was proposed by Pinellas Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, passed in the Senate Regulations Committee. The bill would legalize the standard growler size in Florida. Similar legislation in the House of Representatives, HB 715, had its first reading at the beginning of March.

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