The Science of Beer – A SciCafe Event (again)

•June 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Some of you may recall back in October of 2012, I sat on a panel of “experts” discussing the Science of Beer. Tom Williams (owner of St. Pete Brewing) and I answered questions about the science side of brewing, the social aspects, homebrewing, and even addressing veganism in craft beer. It was a lot of fun, and the moderator, Rob Lorlei (WMNF) did a great job asking engaging questions and getting the audience involved. A great time was had by all, and we had a really good turnout.

Science of Beer

Well, the SciCafe is back! Tonight, once again at the Ale & the Witch in St. Petersburg, The Science of Beer will be the topic, but this time it is for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Teachers Leadership Institute, and we are expecting over 100 teachers in attendance! The goal is to help get them enthusiastic about teaching science and math – and the Science of Beer will be the star of the show! Tom Williams will be returning as a panelist, and this year he will be joined by Green Bench brewmaster Khris “Burn The House Down” Johnson, and Jessy Weber, intern at 3 Daughters Brewing and a USFSP student. And moderating the event?

Yours truly.

I am honored to have been asked by SciCafe St. Pete to participate and combine two of my favorite things: science and beer!

The event begins at 4pm with a “social time” and the panel will begin at 5pm, going for about an hour and a half.

Even if you are not a teacher, this should be a great time. I am very much looking forward to it.

Cheers!

Science of Beer II

Guest Post: A Reply to Senator Stargel

•April 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I have had the pleasure of working with Gerard Walen for a number of years as writers and friends in the craft beer world. Gerard literally wrote the book on Florida Breweries, and has crafted a well written response to the spurious claims of State Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland), the sponsor of SB1714 that is before the Senate today:

Dear Senator Stargel,

I just finished reading your commentary published this morning in various local newspapers, and I’d like to respond to part of it and try to offer you some insight on an issue for which I’ve done a fair amount of research – beer tourism.

In closely following the path through the Senate of what is now SB 1714, I’ve occasionally heard the “tourism exemption,” aka,  the “Busch Gardens exemption” mentioned as if it’s something that never applies to the  state’s now-thriving craft brewing industry. I do not agree.

Here’s what you said in this morning’s commentary

“Most important, this legislation will still preserve and protect the critical three-tier system, while ensuring the expanding craft brewery industry is in full legal operation, not in a grey area. Currently, craft brewers operate under a tourism exemption. This exemption allows a brewer (first tier) to sell beer to a customer as a vendor (third tier). This exemption was originally intended to allow theme parks to sell beer to its park visitors. However, craft breweries have been issued licenses under this exemption, without having to prove their tourism aspect. Thus, they are presently operating outside the context of current law.”

Here’s the language of the statute [Florida Statutes Section 561.221 (2)]

“The division is authorized to issue vendor’s licenses to a manufacturer of malt beverages, even if such manufacturer is also licensed as a distributor, for the sale of alcoholic beverages on property consisting of a single complex, which property shall include a brewery and such other structures which promote the brewery and the tourist industry of the state. However, such property may be divided by no more than one public street or highway.”

And, just for fun, here’s the definition of “tourism” from Merriam-Webster  online.

TOURISM

the practice of traveling for recreation; 2:  the guidance or management of tourists ; 3a :  the promotion or encouragement of touring,  b :  the accommodation of tourists

With the exception of a current working brewpub on Walt Disney World property, the only theme park that I am aware of that had an operating brewery in Florida is Busch Gardens. I certainly used to enjoy touring it when I was a child growing up in Tampa because of the cool machinery, and later when I came of age, the cold samples of brews at the end of the tour. That brewery no longer exists, demolished in the ‘90s to make room for more rides. Still the free samples continued, at least until the Belgian conglomerate InBev took over Anheuser-Busch and immediately put the park on the auction block. When the private equity firm that now owns it took over, one of the first things it did was eliminate the free samples.

However, that’s really not even relevant to your statement. The line in the law does not even mention “theme parks.” It only requires a brewery to exist and to promote the tourist industry. You seem to believe that people traveling for “recreation” do not make our state’s craft breweries part of their itineraries.  You are wrong.

Though I wish I had hard numbers to show you, I can’t, not at least for Florida. But I have traveled across the country touring craft breweries, attending craft beer festivals and writing about it for other beer tourists.  Yes, “beer” and “tourists.” There are plenty of us, and we spend money, rent hotel rooms, and promote craft beer destinations to others by sharing tips and stories.

There is much anecdotal evidence that this is a growing attractor for Florida:

Brew Bus USA started in Tampa in 2011 with a single bus to ferry visitors to local breweries and craft beer events. It now has an entire fleet of buses, the tours are usually sold out, and it recently expanded operations to South Florida. A couple of similar services operate in Jacksonville, and they are seeing the same level of success.

Nearly all breweries offer some sort of tour. The ones at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, for instance, run every hour, five days a week, and are usually filled to capacity. You should go on one. It might open your mind.

The New York Times recently named St. Petersburg as one of 52 “Places to Go” in 2014, along with such destinations as Scotland, South Africa and New Zealand. Of the 107 words written in the St. Pete entry, 76 were about the local craft beer scene and the energy it brings to a once-tired downtown.

At least a half-dozen cities and regions in Florida now have official “craft beer weeks” that bring in visitors, attract crowds to venues on nights that would otherwise experience slow nights, and, as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told me, “put heads in beds” of the local hotels.

My book, “Florida Breweries,” was released on April 1. I wish I had exact sales numbers, but let’s just say that both my publisher and I are pleased with the reception. At the book signings I’ve done so far, I’ve had dozens of personal conversations with real craft beer fans, many of whom have told me that the guidebook will be invaluable for their trip and vacation planning. In fact, I personally visited the 66 Florida breweries that are profiled in the book, so I’ve been having those type of conversations for years.

You say this is a “grey” area in the state’s beverage law. I counter that it’s one of the most black-and-white parts of the confusing regulations that govern a growing and job-producing local industry. And your bill does nothing but make things even more confusing.

Before you imply that the state’s craft beer community has nothing to do with Florida’s tourism business, you might want to actually visit and tour some of the breweries upon which you are trying to impose onerous regulations and talk to the customers in the tasting room. You might be surprised at the far-flung locations from which they have traveled to taste our delicious, Florida-made brews.

Regards,

Gerard Walen

 

Gerard Walen is the author of “Florida Breweries” (Stackpole Books, April 2014), the founder and editor of BeerInFlorida.com, editor of Road Trips for Beer, and a freelance writer based in Crystal River, Florida.

SB 1714 and Senator Stargel

•April 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Craft Beer Under Attack

Yesterday’s conversation in the Florida Senate was a disgrace, to put it nicely. There have been numerous accounts of what happened there, but the end result was no vote was taken yet. The days and hours leading up to yesterday were fast and furious, with back-room meetings, amendments filed, and no small amount of public outrage. We may not know for sure the details of the attempts at a “good” bill for some time. Depending on who you talk to, there was a deal reached on Sunday between the lobbyists, and then it fell apart. There is certainly some question as to who is at fault there, but what is not in question is that when Monday’s session began, things got ugly. If there is a vote today, it will be very interesting to see what happens.

But I want to back up for a second and address a couple of things I have seen and heard over the past week.

First off, I have been very vocal in my criticism of legislators who are supporting SB1714. I have called them corrupt, uninformed, bought-and-paid-for, and hypocritical. I still stand by those claims. What I have NOT done is called for any kind of violence against them, used profanity in describing them, used offensive slurs, or made personal attacks that were not directly related to their actions in Tallahassee. Apparently some people have. There have been reports of these kinds of attacks on Senator Kelli Stargel, and I want to make it very clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, reprehensible, and it hurts our cause. To stoop to that level of thug behavior is irresponsible and wrong, and if you were someone who participated in it, you should be ashamed.

Second, be very careful about what you read and report. With so much information flying about and with the conversation getting so heated, it is easy to grab any sliver of info and run with it before you know the full facts around it. Statements and reports do not exist in a vacuum. There is always context. Just one example was the report that apparently if SB1714 passed, Joey Redner was going to move Cigar City Brewing out of Florida.  Well, that is not what he said at all. In fact, he said himself in the Rules Committee hearing that CCB is big enough that even if SB1714 passed, they would “be fine.” His concern was for those coming up behind him in the industry, and that any expansion he did would probably be out of state. So just be careful what you quote and keep the context in mind.

So, with the Senate meeting today, and the likelihood of this bill being put to a vote, I suppose it was inevitable that Senator Stargel, the bill’s sponsor, would try to make her case again to a larger audience. She release an OpEd column last night explaining her position.

Florida State Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland)

You can read it here: Stargel’s Op-Ed

She insults the intelligence of the industry by saying “small but vocal faction of the beer industry that has clouded this issue by promulgating misinformation”.

The misinformation has come from you, Senator. Shall we explore?

You keep regurgitating the same line about “preserving the three-tier system”. What you fail to mention is that it was never threatened. No one has suggested any changes to it but you and your backers. The 21st Amendment clearly and unambiguously leaves the structure, implementation, and enforcement of the three-tier system up to each individual state. It’s not a Federal Mandate!

You try to spread the fear of “unregulated beer widely available in the marketplace.” Show me a single instance where this is happening. To suggest that beer direct from the brewery is somehow unregulated is not only blatantly false, but it is an insult to the professional men and women who work tirelessly to produce their product.

You claim to have “continued to meet with stakeholders across the industry”. That is a lie. You have not worked with anyone within the industry other than the FBWA. Not a single Florida craft brewer has supported you in this, and your claims that you have “not had a response” from the brewers simply means you are not listening to the huge outcry from the entire industry.

Your numbers (2000 kegs) are arbitrary. You said so yourself. Without input from the industry you are trying to regulate, you came up with a number out of thin air, and barely budged when told that those numbers “would not even pay for a packaging line”.

You actually are trying to convince people that what you are proposing is going to HELP craft brewing in Florida, when every single brewer who actually knows the business is telling you otherwise. You are claiming to ensure everyone is in full compliance with the law, when there was never a question about it. To add insult to injury, you actually made the claim that craft brewers want NO regulation on alcohol. There is simply no basis for this claim, and you know it. No one is asking for a roll-back of regulations. All they wanted was to follow the example of 47 other states and allow 64 ounce growlers, and allow tastings in retail stores like they do with wine.

But the biggest insult is to claim “This bill will not put craft breweries out of business. It simply protects the three-tier system and ensures they are operating within the context of the law.” To begin with, several brewers have said that this could very well put them out of business. Other breweries in planning have said this will probably stop them from opening. Some have suggested they will move operations out of state. Either you did not hear them, or you are calling them liars. And the claims to protect the three-tier system (which is not in any need of protection) are as disingenuous as your claims that you support the craft beer industry.

Finally, you display chutzpah of the highest (lowest?) caliber when you close with “I am proud of the hard work, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of our Florida craft breweries, and I invite any of them to share with me their thoughts and concerns in a professional and respectful manner as it relates to Senate Bill 1714 and the recently filed amendment.” They HAVE shared the thoughts and concerns. Repeatedly. And you have dismissed them out of hand, and attempted to change the conversation by lying and spreading your own misinformation.

Wonka SB1714

Friends, it has never been more important to make your voice heard. Personally, I do not want to bill to pass and then just go dormant because there is no supporting house bill, or due to some technicality. I want it to be voted down in its current form because I firmly believe it is bad for craft beer in Florida. You will notice no one is even talking about growler size anymore. The opposition has effectively changed the debate to be about regulation, distribution, and tightening controls on small businesses.

By now you should know how to contact your local representatives. Call them. Call their Tallahassee office, call their local office, talk to their staffers. As I said before, this is about more than just craft beer. It’s about taking back control.

Cheers.

 

It Is Not Just About Beer

•April 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Craft Beer Under Attack

It is not just about beer. It is not just about Florida Breweries. It is not even just about Florida. It is about corporate money influencing policy that affects everyone. From the breweries to the distributors to the bars, restaurants and retailers and ultimately the consumers. it is about local jobs, locally owned and operated businesses, tourists, local culture, local economy, and the freedom to decide how you want to run your business, legally and safely.

Today it is the craft beer industry that is under attack. Maybe that is not part of your life. And that is fine. But tomorrow, it could be something you hold dear. I would be willing to bet that there is something that you care about, something that you love, enjoy, and participate in that is in the sights of a wealthy, politically connected corporation. And tomorrow they may make a call and write a check to someone in your legislature that will be harmful to that industry you love, but make them even more money. And now that senator or house representative has a choice. Take the money and be owned by that donor, or listen to the people who put him or her in that seat and do the right thing.

It is not just Florida. It is not just beer. It is not a left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative issue. The epidemic of corruption, cronyism, and influence buying is pervasive in our country, from the local levels all the way up to the three branches of the Federal Government. But if we can stop one, we can then stop another. And then another.

I have said repeatedly that this is a war that will be long fought, but it is one worth fighting. Please stand with the brewers and craft beer lovers of Florida and make your voice heard in Tallahassee. Join the Facebook Event for information on how you can help.

Cheers.

 

A Battle Lost, But Progress Made

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

NoOn1714header

Yesterday, Florida craft brewers lost another battle against big-beer financed government over-regulation. SB1714 passed the Senate Rules committee by a vote of 9-4, with committee chair John Thrasher (R – St. Augustine) ramming the issue through, rushing those who wanted to speak to the bill, and clearly not listening to a word they said. The bill’s corporate-backed sponsor, Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland) once again showed her ignorance of the industry and unwillingness to listen to facts. As part of an attempt to “compromise”, an amendment was added to the bill to allow breweries producing two-thousand kegs of beer or less to sell their own packaged beers without going through the distributor. When pressed repeatedly on how she came up with that number, she admitted “I came up with that number, but I am not in the industry.”  Translation? “It is totally arbitrary and I do not know what I am talking about… again.” She also made a jaw-dropping statement that this bill would “in no way shut down any breweries.” Clearly, she has not only not been listening to testimony or reading articles (although she claims to have been), but she has not done any serious fact-checking of her own.

The best part for me, though, was watching Cigar City Brewing’s Justin Clark say very simply “We are not asking to change anything in the three tier… it is our opposition that is bringing up seventeen pages of language to change the three tier.” He went on to quickly and eloquently explain how the three tier system has helped Cigar City grow its business, and how the proposed bill would hurt the up and coming breweries in Florida. One after another, representatives from all around the state stood up and opposed this bill in its entirety, and once again, the people’s voices were ignored.

In case you were wondering how the committee members voted, here is the rundown:

Lizbeth Benacquisto (R – Ft. Meyers) – did not vote
Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R – Miami) – Yea
Bill Galvano (R – Bradenton) – Yea
Andy Gardiner (R – Orlando) – Nay
Jack Latvala (R – Clearwater) – Nay
Tom Lee (R – Brandon) – Yea
Gwen Margolis (D – Miami) – Nay
Bill Montford (D – Tallahassee) – Yea
Joe Negron (R – Palm City) – did not vote
Garrett Richter (R – Naples) – Yea
Jeremy Ring (D – Margate) – Yea
David Simmons (R – Altamonte Springs) – Yea
Eleanor Sobel (D – Hollywood) – Yea
Christopher Smith (Vice Chair, D – Ft. Lauderdale) – Nay
John Thrasher (Chair, R – St. Augustine) – Yea

Is your senator on this committee? How did they vote? Let them know what you think. Make sure to let those voting to protect Florida craft beer know you appreciate their efforts. And make sure those that are voting against our local businesses know that you will not forget on election day.

Naturally, those of us who support Florida breweries are not happy with the outcome of this. But it is somewhat heartening to see that there are actually some legislators that seem to be listening at last. The fact that we had 4 “NAY” votes is promising, and it was even mentioned by a few of the favorable voters that the bill still needed work and was going to face stiff opposition in the Senate. A number of people have already been writing and calling their senators in the past 24 hours, and it looks like we are getting through to some. I know that my Senator, Jeff Brandes (R – St. Petersburg) has opposed it. Tampa Representative Dana Young has also been very vocal in her support. In addition, there is a new Facebook “event” that I encourage you to join so we can channel our collective energy to fight this. Click here.

FL Brewers in Tally

Florida brewers in Tallahassee with Rep. Dana Young (pic courtesy of Justin Clark)

There was also an interesting turn of events yesterday as the Beer Industry of Florida lobbying group came out officially in opposition to the bill, reversing their initial support. Their president Eric Criss released a statement that stated they were essentially against all of the proposals, and reaffirmed their support for 64 ounce growlers.  He did leave room, however, for trying to have more definitions and exceptions decided on later, again touting the merits of the three-tier system. (You can read the full statement here.) While this is a good turn, it feels a little like back pedaling after his “waive in support” stance less than two weeks ago. It does cause one to wonder if maybe our message it getting through.

I had the opportunity to sit down last week with John J. Taylor, III, owner of J.J. Taylor Distributing and discuss the goings on in the state and in Tallahassee. One of the first things he said to me was “Florida’s beer laws are ridiculous.” Obviously, he supports a strong three-tier system. I didn’t expect anything less. He has built a hugely successful company based around it, and has done very well. And the thing is, there are very few who would begrudge him that or have a problem with it. One of the big misconceptions (and perpetuated misinformation campaigns from Mitch Rubin and the FBWA) is that craft brewers and craft beer lovers are trying to do away with the three tier system. They aren’t. *We* aren’t. Sure, there are some who will argue that it is an outdated throwback to a different era, but generally speaking I think everyone recognizes that distributors play an important and necessary role in the growth of craft beer. I asked Taylor about an “official” response or position on all the goings on and he told me quite frankly that he didn’t think it would matter. “Trust me, we are working behind the scenes. We are talking to the legislators, talking to Eric [Criss]. But no one buys ‘J.J. Taylor’. They buy the beer.” I appreciated him taking the time to talk to me, especially since I had not contact him, he was the one who reached out to me. That shows me that the message is being heard outside the craft beer geeks, and that people in a position to help affect change are listening. He was gracious, forthcoming, and had actually read the things I had written.

I still don’t think the bill has a chance to actually get passed, but I have seen worse legislation make it through in Florida. But the good news is that our movement is being noticed and picked up by the media. I even saw it mentioned this morning on our local NBC affiliate. It has been in papers around the state, as well as national publications. And I have not seen a single article or news story claiming these efforts by the AB/InBev puppets are good for anyone but the distributors.  In fact, former lawmakers have even come out in opposition to these bills.

In addition, one of the few GOOD bills passed today, allowing beer tastings in retail outlets (like they have been doing with wine forever). State Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice), was able to push SB470 through the Appropriations Committee today (it passed unanimously) in an effort to repeal a state law that prevented beer tastings at retail stores that are now allowed to host wine tastings. It now has to pass the Rules Committee before it goes to the full Senate, but unlike SB1714, this one actually has a comparable bill in the House that has already passed all of its committees. So there is some good happening, albeit slowly.

beers

As I have said before, this is a long game we are playing here. It is a war. There will be battles won, and battles lost, but we have to keep fighting and keep the pressure on. Aside from the financial influence we are fighting against, our biggest obstacle is ignorance and misinformation. All it takes is watching one of these committee meetings to see how oblivious many of the legislators are to craft beer and the industry in Florida. And to be fair, they have a lot of other important things to think about: education, health care, unemployment, crime, environmental issues, and of course their own re-election campaigns and party politics. So if we can give them the information in quick and easy terms, it makes our job easier.

This isn’t just about beer. It is about jobs. It is about the economy. It is about families and family businesses. It is about tourism. It is about a growing industry. It is about Construction. It is about investment in Florida. It is about marketing the state as a place people want to come to work, to play, and to live. There is so much good that the industry does for the state. Why would anyone want to suppress that?

Keep fighting the good fight, friends. And keep your voices heard. The emails, the letters, and the phone calls matter. And so does voting. You think this will all blow over by the next election? Don’t worry… there are plenty of us who will not let you forget.

Cheers!

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life…

•April 16, 2014 • 1 Comment

Thank you, Monty Python…

The war rages on, friends, between the emerging craft beer community in Florida and the hypocritical and corrupt puppets in our legislative body. Last week’s efforts to stop a terrible bill (SB1714) came up short as the bought-and-paid-for members of the Community Affairs Committee ignored comments and testimony and objections for the citizenry and voted 8-1 to push the bill through. It was a slap in the face to Florida breweries, and big middle finger to everyone who expressed concerns about the bill, and a sad reminder about how broken our system is. The bill’s sponsor, Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, was exposed for the fraud she is when pressed on the repercussions of the bill by fellow Republican, Jack Latvala of Clearwater. Stargel tried to stick to what were clearly talking points and rehearsed lines from her owners (the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association), but she could not avoid sounding absolutely ridiculous in her defense of the extortion-style tactics.  And without allowing much input from the floor, they moved to a vote, and jammed it through. It was also distressing to see Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida (the other big distributor lobbyist group) stand in support of the bill. It appears as though the powers that be in Big Beer have all decided to unite against the craft breweries they claim to support.

UPDATE: Actually, just moments before I was about the post this, I read that apparently now Criss has reversed his position and is working to remove the requirement that breweries sell their packaged beer to distributors and then buy it back if they want to sell on premises. And Mitch Rubin (lobbyist for FBWA) is just as much of a liar and scoundrel as ever. Read the article here.

Wonka SB1714

But all is not lost. According to most legal experts, SB1714 is pretty much dead anyway. Even if it does come up to the full Senate, there is no accompanying House bill, since HB1329 was essentially stripped to nothing, and there are only a few weeks left in the legislative session. My guess is there is no stomach for this right now, and the general consensus is that there are more pressing issues to address. So another session will pass with nothing done, but I like to think the attention being paid in state and national media to this issue might make some people wake up and demand better from their elected officials.

It is easy to forget in all of this craft beer activism what we are fighting for. The men and women who built the businesses we visit, brew the beer we love, and put on the events we attend. The craft breweries of Florida. Even with all of the ridiculous maneuvering in Tallahassee, the industry and culture is booming in the Sunshine State. My good friend and fellow blogger Gerard Walen (not Gerald Whalen) just released his first book, Florida Breweries. it is an in-depth look at the breweries across the state, their histories, and even recommendations from beers at each one! If you want to be in the know about where to drink Florida’s best beers, you have to pick this book up. My guess is he will have to write a sequel, though. I believe that at the time the book got printed, there were only 66 breweries in Florida, and estimates are that we’ll have over 100 by the end of the year.  Gerard has been doing release parties around the state and signing copies for people, so go check him out!

Florida Breweries

And speaking of new breweries opening, St. Pete Brewing Company had a soft opening last week, making it the fourth in the downtown area! I got to stop in and check it out and was happy with the relaxed atmosphere, family-friendly setting, and of course, the delicious beers! The Milo’s IPA was great, and a friend of mine said their Grateful Stout was “the best non-barrel-aged stout in town”. High praise, I would say!

St. Pete Brewing

I also got wind of another new brewery opening up, this one over in Tampa. ShadowWerkz Brewery will be having a Pre-Release party as part of their fundraising efforts on April 26th. This was part of today’s press release:

“This [pre-release] party represents the first time most of these award-winning hard ciders and beers will be available for tastings to the general public, and we’re working hard to make these products available at select bars and beer stores in the Tampa Bay” said Dan Hoffman, chief cook & bottle washer at ShadowWerkz. “It also provides a venue for our fans to provide important feedback and participate in setting the direction for this new artisanal cider & brew house.”

Looks like it will be a fun party! And another brewery to add to the growing list.

In the grand scheme of things, we have a lot to be happy about, Florida beer lovers.  We have a growing industry that is providing not only jobs and actual dollars in our communities, but we are also building a culture and network of citizens who can come together and celebrate this positive growth. The stronger we become, the more influence we can wield, and hopefully turn the tide against the big-money special interests. I plan on offering some suggestions for different courses of action over the next few weeks that we can all take part in to move our cause forward. I hope you’ll be part of it!

Cheers!

Infuriating… And Frustrating…

•April 8, 2014 • 6 Comments

The war continues, my friends. Another key battle happens today. And I am going to say some things that certain entities out there are not going to want to hear. But these things need to be said. So, if you are afraid of being called out, or are uncomfortable with looking in the mirror, you might want to stop reading now.

Craft Beer Under Attack

But first, the issue at hand: Senate Bill 1714. This is SPB7120, submitted to the Community Affairs Committee under a new number. Sneaky, eh? The committee meeting is today at 3pm, so swift action is needed.  The bill is bad on several levels, but the most odious provision is this: it will no longer allow breweries to sell bottles directly to customers. All bottles must be sold to distributors, who can then choose to sell back to the brewery or not, or even raise the price. Special bottle releases will be at the mercy of the distributor.

Not surprisingly, this bill was authored by Senate President Don Gaetz (R – District 1, Panama City), who you may recall is buddies with Lewis Bear of Lewis Bear Distributing, who also happens to have contributed a large amount of money towards Gaetz’s campaign. Gaetz repaid the favor last year by appointing Lewis to the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors. And who says there is no corruption or cronyism in Tallahassee?

But this is not new news. We have known this for a while. And Gaetz – as he loves to point out in his canned email responses – is not on the Community Affairs Committee, so will not be voting today. The members that are voting are:

Chair: Senator Wilton Simpson (R – New Port Richey, District 18) – (850) 487-5018 email: simpson.wilton.web@flsenate.gov
Vice Chair: Senator Geraldine F. “Geri” Thompson (D – Orlando, District 12) – (850) 487-5012 email: thompson.geraldine.web@flsenate.gov

Senator Rob Bradley (R – Orange Park, District 7) – (850) 487-5007 email: bradley.rob.web@flsenate.gov
Senator Dorothy L. Hukill (R – Port Orange, District 8) – (850) 487-5008 email: hukill.dorothy.web@flsenate.gov
Senator Jack Latvala (R – Clearwater, District 20) – (850) 487-5020 email: latvala.jack.web@flsenate.gov
Senator Christopher L. Smith (D – Ft. Lauderdale, District 31) – (850) 487-5031 email: smith.chris.web@flsenate.gov
Senator Darren Soto (D – Kissimmee, District 14) – (850) 487-5014 email: soto.darren.web@flsenate.gov
Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland, District 15) – (850) 487-5015 email: stargel.kelli.web@flsenate.gov
Senator John Thrasher (R – St. Augustine, District 6) – (850) 487-5006 email: thrasher.john.web@flsenate.gov

Or you can email them at their Senate pages here.

No on SB1714

I probably do not need to reiterate how bad this bill is for Florida breweries, consumers, and craft beer lovers. It is not a partisan issue, although it is the Republicans in power who are primarily pushing this agenda. But the money is flowing freely across the aisle. And again, the sheer hypocrisy of some of those claiming to be “small government, free enterprise, reduced regulation” conservatives is infuriating.

You know things are heating up when we start getting press outside the state. There was a great article in the Chicago Tribune that really highlighted what we are facing here. They quoted big-beer lobbyist Mitch Rubin (Florida Beer Wholesalers Association) as saying their goal was to “re-write the state’s rules governing the craft brewing industry to create strict lines between manufacturers, distributors and retailers.” he claims this would “preserve competition.”

How disingenuous can you be, Mr. Rubin? Competition? It is racketeering, sir. You are a liar. Period. It is no secret that as craft beer has grown in popularity, AB/InBev’s shares have shrunk, and the only way your handlers can think to address it is to squash the innovators and small business people. I keep hearing the same tired line of “preserving the three-tier system” and preventing “tied house evil.” Guess what, no one is threatening your precious three tiers. Regardless of the supposed merits and protections of this antiquated system, allowing 64 ounce growlers and retail tastings are simply not factors in that. At all. So stop with the alarmist posturing, and do not insult the intelligence of the community by making wild claims about competition. It is simply untrue.

We all know about the distributors from FBWA pushing the anti-craft movement. Here in Tampa Bay it is Pepin Distributing and Gold Coast. Active donors to many of the anti-craft legislators, and firmly entrenched in the AB/InBev camp. They and their lobbyists have made no bones about their intent. But what about the others?

It has been very frustrating to watch some of the other distributors stand by silently. And I am speaking specifically about J.J. Taylor and Brown Distributing. J.J. Taylor is a member of of the Beer Industry of Florida, who has frequently touted its support for craft brewers, and yet has been silent in recent weeks about these anti-craft beer bills. I even reached out to people I know to see if maybe I had missed an official statement. I hadn’t. Brown is a member of FBWA, but has been very active in promoting craft beer around the state. And yet silent on this issue.

So now I am calling on JJ Taylor and Brown – and every other distributor in Florida – to make your position known. Let your retailers, your customers, and the breweries you represent know exactly where you stand on these bills. And don’t give us the ridiculous “it’s complicated” answer. It’s not. It does not take a constitutional scholar or Ph.D in economics to see what these bills do, and do not do. It is very telling that there is not a single Florida craft brewery (that I am aware of) that supports SB1714. So where do you stand?

I have friends at these distributors. People I like and respect, and I know share my opinion on this. And they have to be frustrated as hell with the inaction of their executives. The money being shoved at legislators from the FBHA is significant. If you really support Florida brewers like you claim to, why are you not fighting back with your own financial power?

This may get me uninvited from some events, but this is too important not to say something and encourage action. I now call on anyone out there who wants to see craft beer continue to thrive in Florida. Once you have hammered the Senate, start asking the distributors where they stand. Breweries, ask your distributors – the ones who are supposed to be helping you grow your business – where they stand. Upcoming breweries and breweries in planning, take a long hard look at what these distributors do in the coming days and weeks and take note. Are they going to look out for you?

Don't Tread On Craft Beer

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This war is far from over, but we can’t stop fighting the battles.

Cheers.

 
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