By Amber Swal – WUFT contributor
Florida microbrewers, out-of-towners and local beer lovers are eager for passage of a legislative bill this year that would allow 64-ounce “growlers,” a type of large beer container.
SB 1344, however, may be on hold since it has not yet made the Florida House of Representatives’ agenda. It would allow an additional container size for the sale of malt beverages (64 ounces) and would not apply for beverages packaged in bulk, kegs or barrels. If passed, the bill would take effect July 1.
The measure was unanimously approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on March 21, but Sen. Jack Latvala, the sponsor of the bill, said the Regulatory Affairs Committee’s subcommittee chairwoman, Debbie Mayfield, has so far refused to put the bill on the House agenda.
There is only one more opportunity for the subcommittee to do so. Because the bill must pass through the Senate and the House, Latvala expects to have to re-introduce the bill in the fall.
He said there will be a greater push for the House to pass the bill during the next legislative session.
Joshua Aubuchon, executive director and general council of the Florida Brewers Guild, said the guild intends to increase the number of people contacting Mayfield in support of the bill.
Aubuchon said MillerCoors is in support of the legalization of the 64-ounce growler because increasing consumer interest in beer will ultimately increase sales.
Florida is one of three states, along with Utah and Mississippi, that hasn’t legalized the 64-ounce growler. This container size is unofficially accepted nationwide as the standard size for growlers. Because they’re so popular, the bulk production keeps them less expensive than other container sizes for brewers, Aubuchon said.
Brandon Nappy, marketing manager of Swamp Head Brewery, said people from out of state come to Swamp Head, a craft brewery in Gainesville, expecting to fill their 64-ounce growlers and mock that Florida hasn’t changed these laws yet.
Aubuchon said corporations who oppose the bill fear competition from growing craft breweries.
He said opposition namely comes from Anheuser-Busch distributors, which wish to keep Florida beer laws that were set in place just after Prohibition.
Florida beer laws operate under a three-tiered system. There are manufacturers who brew beer, distributors who bring products to vendors and vendors, such as Publix Super Markets and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, who sell to consumers.
There are exceptions to that system. Wineries and breweries are already allowed limited vending. The restrictions come in how many ounces can be sold.
“Everything between 32 and 128 (ounces) is illegal, and it’s ridiculously stupid,” Aubuchon said.
Steven Burkhardt, sales manager for Burkhardt Sales and Service, a Budweiser distributing company, said the problem is much more complex than new craft brewers understand. He said the laws go back as far as Prohibition.
“The little guys are trying to do away with the laws that are actually protecting them,” he said.
Latvala said he doesn’t know exactly how the law would affect distributors, but he doesn’t understand why Republicans, who are supposed to be in support of free market, are trying to restrict it.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified states where 64-ounce growlers are illegal as Georgia and South Dakota. It also incorrectly identified Anheuser-Busch as the main opposition to the bill.