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Proposed law could stifle local brewers

March 14, 2014

If your couldn’t tell by Beer Issue (March 12), we’re super-excited about all of the great local beer news lately. Several new brewpubs are opening around town (Tip Jar). Ron Raike is making crazy good beers like a watermelon gose and the upcoming Five Points Citra IPA over at Cask and Larder. And Redlight Redlight, local king of the craft beer-slinging scene, is starting to brew their own beer, starting with Wit Riot.

Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature hates fun. Or loves money. HB 1329, filed by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues – and first read on the House floor on Mardi Gras, of all holy days – would finally legalize 64-ounce growlers in Florida, but would severely limit the availability of microbrews.

In what appears to be a big handout to distributing companies and big macrobreweries – in February alone, Rodrigues received over $3,500 in campaign donations from various beer industry groups and individuals – HB 1329 would force small breweries into relationships with distributing companies. All products manufactured by the brewery would have to be available for distribution. If a brewery is also considered a retailer – meaning that they have a taproom – they would be prohibited from serving anything that wasn’t made available for distribution.

What would this mean for Orlando’s beloved brewers? Redlight Redlight would have to make Wit Riot available for distribution or be banned from serving anyone else’s beers. Cask and Larder wouldn’t be able to put anything on tap at their restaurant that they didn’t brew themselves. And forget about any potential collaboration beers being exclusive to Orange Blossom Pilsner and Hourglass Brewery.

Eric Criss, president of Beer Industry of Florida, claims that maintaining the dominance of the three-tiered system – manufacturers, distributors and retailers – is a way to prevent pre-Prohibition levels of drunkenness and that “Under this system, many dangers of overconsumption were reduced, increasing the acceptance of beer as a hallmark of American leisure time and celebration.”

It remains to be seen if HB 1329 moves past committee – previous growler bills have all died before coming up for a vote – but that shouldn’t stop you from knocking back a few and leaving slurred messages on your representative’s voicemail.

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