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.
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.
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.