TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Half-gallon "growlers" are closer to going under brewery taps across Florida.
The House on Friday joined the Senate in supporting the end of the state's prohibition on brewers being able to fill 64-ounce containers known as "growlers" for off-site consumption. Currently, brewers can only fill containers of other sizes.
"Let's all just push the button and free the growler here in the state of Florida," Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said before the House voted unanimously to approve the bill.
A heavily lobbied issue in the Capitol, the measure (SB 186) now will go to Gov. Rick Scott. A spokeswoman said Friday the governor will review the bill once it reaches his desk.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said the legislation allows "entrepreneurs, artists, people who care about innovation and business, to continue to prosper in our state."
But Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said that while he supports letting small businesses grow, the state needs to be mindful of the proliferation of alcohol.
"And yes … 64 ounces is not enough for a true professional drinker, but it's a crack in the door," said Rouson, who has been both homeless and a drug addict.
Craft brewers sought the growler change in recent years, but the proposal was scuttled amid objections from large beer distributors. The distributors pointed to a need to protect the state's Depression-era three-tier regulation system, which requires the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages to be separated.
The bill was filed this year as a straightforward attempt to repeal the ban on the containers, which are considered the most popular size among "growler" aficionados.
But as expected, the final bill took on additional issues while going through the committee process.
The final product that will be served to Scott includes regulations that would limit cup sizes to 3.5 ounces for beer tastings, ban the use of electronic-benefits transfer cards --- formerly known as food stamps --- to buy alcoholic beverages and cap at eight the number of tap-room licenses a single brewer can hold.
Byron Burroughs, a founder of Proof Brewing Co. in Tallahassee and a Florida Brewers Guild board member, said some brewers may be upset at the cap, but he has a more optimistic view of the bill.
"The distributor lobbyists have been doing everything they can to stop the number of licenses we can hold, the amount of beer we can transfer between locations," Burroughs said. "The most important aspect of this bill defines what we can and can't do. I think it puts us in a much stronger position to reinvest and grow."
Breweries have been operating since 1963 under a tourism exemption intended to allow on-site alcohol sales. While there is a cap on how many locations each brewer can have as part of the bill, they may no longer have to rely on the tourism exemption to exist.
The bill would allow the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to issue vendor licenses to businesses located within a single complex that includes a brewery.