Half a dozen bills about beer have been filed in the Florida Legislature.
The proposals would essentially do two things: allow certain stores to offer beer tastings - like many already do with wine – and legalize 64-ounce containers of beer.
Florida’s weird packaging laws allow 32-ounce and gallon-sized containers, known as growlers. But 64-ounce growlers are illegal. The law dates back to the prohibition era.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, wants to change that since small breweries and their craft beer are becoming increasingly popular.
“I’ve never had beer out of a growler, but I do know that this is a very rapidly expanding industry within our state,” Latvala said. “We’re all interested in jobs, we’re all interested in a strong economy, and I think this bill will go a long way to helping bring that about.”
The Institute for Justice in Miami included Florida’s current ban on 64-ounce growlers on its list of Florida statutes that should be repealed.
Report co-author Ari Bargil says the law is unnecessary and hinders economic growth.
“In states outside of Florida, this industry is absolutely booming,” Bargil said. “By allowing growlers to be sold either in stores or on the premises, you’re opening up a new market for producers and you’re allowing consumers to obtain a product that they would buy and would have interest in if only it were legal.”
Bargil says big brewers see craft beer as a threat. They want to protect their market share by keeping the most popular size growler off limits.
“Whatever interest is said to be served by a ban on 64-ounce growlers is clearly not served if you can just as easily buy two 32-ounce packages,” Bargil said. “So it’s really just a limitation on smaller breweries and people who would like to sell the industry standard size for no good reason.”
Lawmakers are also moving toward allowing more stores to offer beer tastings.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, doesn’t understand why beer – with its lower alcohol content than wine or spirits – has been prohibited.
"It makes no sense to me that you can have wine tasting at Publix but you can't have beer tasting,” Detert said, “and craft beer seems to be a growth industry in Florida."
Like growlers, this idea has popped up in several pieces of legislation. One bill would allow beer tastings with few restrictions. Another, filed by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, deals with many of the concerns lawmakers have about beer sampling.
“For example, it restricts the off-premise tastings to vendors that are larger than 10,000 square feet, limits the total amount of products that can be tasted at any given vendor tasting up to 576 ounces, which is about two cases of 12 bottles,” Passidomo said, “and it requires the tastes be served in 3-ounce cups or smaller.”
Passidomo’s bill will likely go through more changes, but it’s getting support from the industry.
“Right now, a liquor store can do a wine and liquor tasting but [is] prohibited from doing malt beverage tasting,” said Scott Dick, a lobbyist for ABC liquor stores. “I think as long as the tastings are done in a controlled atmosphere and they’re done responsibly, then it’s one of the best marketing tools that the retailer has.”
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, told lawmakers he still has some concerns about the various beer proposals, like making sure samples aren’t offered in convenience stores.
“There’s some willingness to let this go forward today based on what we’ve heard and what we’ve been asked to do, but it is not without some serious concerns on specific issues,” Rouson said.
If lawmakers want to legalize all growlers and open up beer tastings to more stores, they’ll keep working on compromises over the next month. They’ll whittle down all of these bills into one final proposal that each chamber can vote on before session ends in early May.