Florida has a craft brewing beer battle - WFLA News Channel 8

Florida has a craft brewing beer battle

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - A battle over craft beer is brewing in the Florida legislature.

Craft beers are a growing segment of the U.S. market.

The Website draftmag.com puts out the statistic that craft beer now accounts for 6.5% of total beer sales in the United States.

That is a small number when you take into account the total sales of big boys like Budweiser and Miller, but the craft beer industry is showing steady growth.

In Florida small craft brewers are popping up all over the state, but they claim they are limited by onerous Florida laws.

 Khris Johnson is a brew master for the Green Bench Brewing Company in downtown St. Petersburg.

Green Bench is a start up operation, working out of a converted car garage not far from Tropicana Field.

Johnson wants to see his brewery and others expand.

"If we can get the laws on the same level as other states that have seen sort of a boom in the industry and growth in the industry, we feel like we could grow in the industry and really supply more jobs," said Johnson.

Craft breweries across the country are becoming destination locations for tourists who like to sample unique flavors and blends.

In Florida the breweries are currently allowed to operate under a unique exemption to liquor laws set up after prohibition.

If a brewer wants to sell directly to the consumer, they must put in an application that shows they will draw tourists as a result of their sales.

The exemption was initially put in to allow Busch Gardens to sell beer to tourists at their theme park.

Now the craft breweries want greater latitude to sell their products.

Current Florida law limits the size of containers that beer can be sold in.

 Khris Johnson says the industry standard across the country is a 64 ounce size, commonly referred to as a "growler".

Johnson says the reason for the popularity in the 64 ounce size comes down to human nature.

Florida currently allows the sale of 32 ounce bottles from craft brewers directly to consumers from their brew pubs.

Johnson says that size is too small for many people, because it's essentially two beers and you can't share that with a friend.

Florida also allows the sale of a 128 ounce bottle, that's one gallon and Johnson says that size is too big.

"Once you open these, they're only good for about 24 hours and they lose all carbonation and you have to throw them away," said Johnson as he pointed to a gallon size jug.

The 64 ounce size turns out to be the Goldilocks of beer containers, not too small, not big, just right to share the equivalent of four beers between friends.

The craft beer industry has been pushing for a change in the Florida law to allow the sale of these containers.

Senate bill 1714 from Polk County legislator Kelli Stargel addresses some of the craft brewers concerns, but many in that segment of the industry are angered by other provisions in the bill.

If beer production from a craft brewer exceeds two thousand kegs in any year, the Craft Brewer must first sell his product to a licensed distributor, then buy back their own product from the distributor before they can sell it to a consumer.

Joey Redner owns Cigar City Brewing in Tampa and long ago exceeded the two thousand keg a year limit.

"We're the tree that has already sprouted, we're clear of the shade, we're going to be okay, but for the smaller breweries, it's definitely going to slow down their growth," said Redner.

The Florida Beer Wholesalers association, representing major breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev, say Senate Bill 1714 will help everyone.

In a statement this week, The Florida Beer Wholesalers association, said, "The bill, as amended yesterday, will give Florida's craft beer industry many of the privileges it has sought in order to conduct more direct-to-consumer sales, especially for beer brewed on-site."

SB 1714 passed the Florida Senate on Tuesday, but seems likely to die in the Florida House.

Advocates on both side of the issue say they will keep working for change.

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