Craft brewers bill could be major setback


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida's rapidly growing beer industry could suffer a major setback if legislators pass a bill that's making its way to the Senate floor.

House Bill 1714 would require craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to the distributors and then buy it back at a higher price. There are nearly a dozen brewers in the northeast Florida area that would be affected.

The owners of Intuition Ale Works in Riverside are adamantly opposed to this new legislation. They said if it passes, as small business owners, it will automatically take money out of their pockets.

Ben Davis, the founder of Intuition, said the bill threatens to steal what he's built from the ground up.

"It's going to kill us," he said. "It's basically going to make us question our whole business plan, change the way you operate and push future business to the markets and states."

The law would force craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor. If they want to sell it in their own tap rooms, they would then have to buy it back at 30 to 40 percent markup of the price.

Davis said he believes lobbyists for major beer manufacturers are behind the bill, fearing the fierce competition.

"We're growing but they're not," Davis said. "But the problem is, in the state of Florida, we are required to sell beer to a distributor. So the distributors, if we're growing, they are growing."

If the bill passes, Davis said other craft brewers from outside the state of Florida won't want to come to the Sunshine State to set up shop in fear of increased regulation.

The senator who authored the bill, Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said, "The goal of this legislation is to preserve the three-tier system of alcohol distribution that the federal government set up after prohibition ended in the 1930s. It ensures that alcoholic beverages are passed through a distributor to get to retailers."

The bill was initially intended to allow craft brewers to sell 64-ounce growlers, but at the urging of Anheuser- Busch, the bill was changed to require craft brewers to pay distributors.

"This whole debate started because we asked for this," Davis said. "We can sell you this, sell you this, but I can't sell you this."

Craft brewery sales grew 18 percent by volume just last year.

The bill could go to the floor for a vote as early as Wednesday.

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