Ybor's Florida Cane Distllery lobbies to pass The Craft Distillery bill

They're giving it, ahem, a shot.

click to enlarge CHIPPING AWAY: For the last three years, owners Lee Nelson (L) and Pat O’Brien have been working tirelessly to pass the Craft Distiller Bill. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLORIDA CANE DISTILLERY
CHIPPING AWAY: For the last three years, owners Lee Nelson (L) and Pat O’Brien have been working tirelessly to pass the Craft Distiller Bill.

Frustrated with the restraints that the state has placed on craft distilleries when it comes to spirits, Florida Cane Distillery owners Pat O’Brien and Lee Nelson decided to take a stand.

But, like, in a really legal way.

So the two took to Tallahassee to lobby for a bill that would allow craft distilleries the same rights as craft breweries.

This means being able to create, mix and sell craft spirits in-house, shipping products out of state and removing limitations on number of bottles per brand per consumer that may be sold per year.

Other clauses cover permitting and vendor licensing like authorizing event permits for craft distilleries to conduct tastings and sales of distilled spirits produced by craft distilleries at fairs, trade shows, expositions and festivals. 

By allowing these changes to be made, craft distilleries will no longer have to solely rely on their distribution network to get their product out to the masses.

Last Tuesday, the distilling duo took a road trip to Tally, their third as a company.

“We thought we could make a difference if we got involved, every year we’ve been chipping away,” Nelson says.

The bill in question is The Craft Distiller Bill (HB1229).

One of the big talking points of getting this bill passed is that nearly every other state in the country has allowed their distilleries these rights, “Florida is behind in this craft distilling movement,” a passionate Nelson argues.

The two have secured Representative Holly Raschein as the house bill’s sponsor and Representative D. Smith as co-sponsor; for the senate bill sponsor and co-sponsor, Senator Jeff Brandes and Senator Linda Stewart are holding it down.

“When we asked Senator Brandes of Pinellas County why he cared, he stated what he wants all markets to have a fair chance,” Nelson explains.

“Oh, and he has some ownership in Green Bench Brewing Co., which I though was funny, we’re all in the same boat to get these laws changed,” Nelson adds with a laugh. 

O’Brien and Nelson have outlined questions if opposition to the bill arises including: Why do you feel that distilleries should not have the same laws concerning their tasting rooms as craft breweries in Florida? Do you feel that the jobs and revenue created by the 268 craft breweries in Florida was bad for the state?

Let the people enjoy cocktails with the spirits that are made in-house — please?

“The big challenge is the rules committee, which is chaired by Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto,” whom Nelson explains hasn’t signed off on her full support of the bill as of yet.

O’Brien and Nelson may make another visit to the capital to meet with Benacquisto, but at the very least the two will be be relying on writing letters and making calls asking for her to approve the bill as is.

Fingers crossed, the proposed bill will make it to the house floor for a vote within the next week or so, and Florida will be able to get our cocktail on at local craft distilleries.

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