Infuriating… And Frustrating…

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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~ by Sean Nordquist on April 8, 2014.

6 Responses to “Infuriating… And Frustrating…”

  1. Great post laying it out there Sean!

  2. Sean,

    Excellent post – I’m promoting it and also wrote a letter to the voting members of SB1714 today. In case anyone is interested in cutting and pasting what I wrote in their own email(s) to senators on any of the upcoming bills, here’s my text (copy and paste at will!)

    Dear Respected xxx,

    I am a proud citizen and Florida voter! I am also completely dismayed and frustrated at the litany of Senate and House Bills (most pressing is the SB1714, which was formerly named SB1720 ) currently going through our FL state government. As you may or may not know, the results of these ballots and bills could effectively kill the FL craft brewing industry and the small businesses they represent in our state. I know that there are very active lobbyists pushing for increased regulations to safeguard the profits of “big business” – in particular big beer distributors (I’m sure you know that one of the largest distributors represents Anheuser-Busch which is now owned by the Belgian giant InBev) and others.

    It is astounding to me, as a small business owner, that Florida would suppress an industry that is starting to create jobs in Florida and giving our state a reputation as a craft beer destination, and is an industry giving us global recognition (as well as national!) for high quality brewing products and standards.

    I urge you to please vote NO to these various bills that are surfacing in various committees under a number of different legislative proposals and authored by a number of elected representatives. If the bills (close to 11 of them!) go through, we will lose established craft breweries (there is already talk of relocating elsewhere) and also the possibility of west coast breweries from moving here. We cannot afford to lose such a vibrant and emerging industry through repressive legislation such as that being hidden within SB1714 and other bills!

    The craft brewing industry reminds me of the emergence years ago of the US software industry which now is a major part of everyone’s everyday life. While craft brewing has not pervaded to this degree, yet, our Florida craft brewing industry is making such a name in mainstream society that there is now a craft beer component in every major public entertainment event and festival (the Florida State Fair, a traditionally conservative group, has even enlisted an advisory panel to introduce craft beer at the 2015 state fair.)

    CRAFT BEER is part of the revitalization of Florida – it provides innovation, dollars, creativity, vibrancy, optimism – and jobs to a wide variety of young people and boomers alike. Craft beer is our future – please support this small business industry by voting a resounding NO to all of the bills coming before you.

    PLEASE, for the future of our state, vote NO!

    Respectfully,

  3. Great synopses as usual, Sean. I’ve been hammering this into the brewers I know up here in Michigan. Even though both sides of the isle have shown great support, I’m afraid that they’re using Florida as a test case. I hear they’re trying to pull a similar stunt in New York right now.

  4. Sean, as a craft beer drinker and supporter, I would like to thank you for your detailed article. I also support the idea of small breweries being able to sell their beer to go directly from the brewery. I see no harm in guest beer growlers to go as well. It seems to be critical to their business plan and good for our growing craft beer industry.
    That said, it looks like the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA) is not the only supporter of the Senate Bill. Seems as though some major retailers (who have been integral to the success of our small breweries) support it as well. Small craft distributor Brown Distributing is a member of the FBWA and JJ Taylor Distributing is in the Beer Industry of Florida (BIF).
    Scott Dick, lobbyist for ABC Fine Wine & Spirits said “Allowing microbreweries to have unlimited guest taps puts them at a competitive advantage. If you don’t go through a distributor, you destroy the marketplace,” according to an article by Orlando Sentinel (http://touch.orlandosentinel.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-79832096/).
    In the same article, “An unrestricted Wild West of small brewers operating as their own distributors is a threat to the system,” said Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, which represents MillerCoors and other craft-beer distributors. This bill seems to getting support not only from Big Beer ABI distributors, but from all sides in the distribution network, as well as retailers.

  5. […] 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 […]

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