Love Wins

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I made a decision a while back to mostly avoid political commentary on this page, other than beer-related things.

For today, though, I am going to break my self-imposed rule.

I can’t express enough how happy I am at the Supreme Court’s decision today regarding marriage equality. I have had friends in the LBGT community since before I even knew what that was. I lost friends to AIDS, and wept over their names on the Quilt when it was on display in DC. I have learned what it meant to be a straight ally, and am proud to count among some of my closest friends and mentors people who are gay and lesbian.

Today, finally, they have received acknowledgement that they have the right under the law to love who they love, just as any citizen of this country should have.

If you believe that – because of your so-called “faith” – that somehow their love or marriage somehow undermines yours, you need to take a deep look at your own relationships. This decision does not require you like or approve or all marriages, just as the abolishing of mixed-race marriage bans didn’t stop those bigots from continuing their hate. Nor does the decision require churches to perform marriages they do not approve of (like the Catholic Church’s position on divorcees). What it says is that in the United States of America, everyone has a legal right to marry the person they love. Period.

We still have a long way to go in this country in regards to equality, justice, and love, but today was a seminal moment of moving forward, and I for one am going to applaud it and start looking for some wedding invitations in the mail.

Love wins.

Huge Pride Flag

Tampa Bay Beer Week

•March 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

2015 Tampa Bay Beer Week

We are now counting the hours until we kick off the 2015 Tampa Bay Beer Week festivities. Every year, this week gets bigger and better, more people flock to our fair region and discover the incredible beer culture that Tampa Bay has to offer. I am privileged to serve on the Board of Directors for TBBW and work with some of our areas most passionate beer lovers, as well as be an advocate and evangelist for those that have worked so hard for so long to bring us to where we are now.

As always, as the week approaches, I am asked “what events are you going to?” and “what are you most looking forward to?”  And every year, it gets harder and harder to answer. This is one of those times where my reservations about the ethics of human cloning go right out the window; I simply can’t be everywhere I want to be. There are so many great events, so much great beer, and so many amazing people that it is too much for one person to take on. First things first, howwever, some shameless plugs for Beer Week itself.

First and foremost, get yourself an official 2015 TBBW Passport. For just $10, you get 52 pages of special offers, beer info, and event details. With exclusive discounts, free beer, swag and more from many local establishments, this is a must for all beer lovers.

TBBW Passport

In addition, for the first time ever, there is an official 2015 TBBW beer! This double IPA was specifically brewed for the week by Cigar City Brewing. Brewed with Citra, Azacca, Amarillo, Equinox and Lemon Drop hops, it has already received rave reviews from those lucky enough to have tasted it. You will be able to find it on draft at select locations around the Bay Area, and bottles are available exclusively in the Cigar City Brewing tasting room.

TBBW Bottles

I also encourage you to visit and say thank you to our sponsors. These are the front line of the beer culture in Tampa Bay, who make, distribute, and sell it to the “fourth tier”… the consumer. Tampa Bay Beer Week is about beer and beer culture. While we have some incredible beer being brewed here, there are also some amazing things being done in other parts of the country and the rest of the world. Expand your horizons. Try something new. You might just discover your new favorite!

For the full list of events submitted to us, check out the official Events Page. There is a good chance more will be added, so keep checking back!  Here are just a few that I am excited about. I really wish i could be at every single one!

Friday, March 6th

While Tampa Bay Beer Week technically begins on Saturday, we are holding two kick-off parties to get things going on Friday night, one on either side of the Bay. In Tampa, the Pour House will be pouring all Florida beers, and in St. Petersburg, the Flying Pig Taphouse will be featuring beers from our Tampa Bay Beer Week sponsors. Both will have passports available for purchase, as well as TBBW shirts and glasses. The parties start at 8:00pm.

2015 TBBW T-Shirts

Saturday, March 7th

It has been the tradition for Tampa Bay Beer Week to kick off the festivities in conjunction with the Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival, and that will continue again this year. For the second year in a row, it will be held at the beautiful Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in downtown Tampa, and feature beers from nearly every brewery in the state. This one is a lot of fun, so you will not want to miss it. You can also expect to see the collaborative cask tapped again, featuring a blend of brews from all around the Bay area.

The 2014 Firkin

If you can’t make it over to Tampa, or you are looking fro something a little different, you can check out the 5th Annual Dunedin Craft Beer Festival, in Dunedin’s beautiful Edgewater park. With over 60 beers from 36 Florida breweries (including 5 special cask tappings throughout the day), as well as live music and food, and free admission, this is a great family friendly way to spend the day.

Sunday, March 8th

One of my favorite events every year is the Best Florida Beer Championship Brewers Ball. It is a celebration of brewing in the state of Florida. The intent is to gather brewers from across the state for the presentation of the Best Florida Beer Championships best of show winners. This is literally the best beer brewed in the state in each category. The Ball features live music and samples of the Gold Medal winning beers from the Best Florida Beer Championships commercial competition. Best of Show Awards are announced for the Homebrew and Commercial competitions. There will also be a homebrew keg competition and Awesome Beer Raffle. Tickets are scarce, so if you can find one, grab it!

Best of Show 2014 - Rapp Brewing

A little further south today, at Darwin Brewing in Sarasota, join brewer Leslie Shore as she brews her Pink Boots Society Brew with 10 lucky ladies. There will be 7 special release IPA treatments available in the taproom in honor of the 7 days of TBBW including hibiscus, coffee, raspberry, pineapple, and more!

Monday, March 9th

I have wanted to say this for a long time: I have my own official TBBW event this year!!! Teaming up with my dear friend Tom Barris (#thatdamnTomBarris), we are putting on a beer writers panel discussion at the Ale & the Witch in St. Pete called The Parched Barris & Beer for the Daddy Present: Blogs, Brews & BBQ: Inside the Beer Writer’s Mind. As the craft beer scene continues to grow, so does the number of people who choose to “fuss over it”, to borrow a phrase. At the forefront of that movement are those who write about it, from the bloggers to the journalists, and those who take that terrifying leap into writing actual books about the subject! Of course, there will be beer to drink and BBQ to eat.

Barris & Nordquist

While I would love to not recommend anything else this evening, I have to give a special mention to another event. On February 11 this year, local beer buddy Aaron Legg suffered 4 seizures and has been hospitalized since then. The seizures caused Rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle fiber which leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood and causes damage to the kidneys. Until his creatine levels return the normal, he’ll remain hospitalized. Unfortunately, Aaron only had dental insurance. Even if the hospital writes off most of it, there are still bills he’s going to have to pay out of pocket. To help Aaron out, some other local beer folks are putting on a fundraiser at St. Pete Shuffle called Shufflin’ for Legg. So, this is absolutely a good cause and we should support the efforts here.

Tuesday, March 10th

No beer week is complete without a beer-pairing dinner, and Tampa Bay Brewing Company has it down to a science. I have attended every one of these, and they just get better every year. This year, the dinner will feature a six course meal with each course paired with a select, sometimes rare beer. Chef John Boyle and Brewmaster David Doble will be on hand to talk about the food and the beer pairings. In addition, special guests (hint hint nudge nudge) will speak during the dinner about issues related to the food and beer being consumed.

TBBC Dinner

As I mentioned, Tampa Bay Beer Week is a celebration of beer from all over the world, and few establishments have done more to advance that cause than The Independent in Tampa. Give some Cheers to Belgian Beers and their mini-Belgian beer fest, and join brewery representatives from Belgian breweries such as St. Bernardus, La Trappe, Rochefort, Duvel and others on hand to discuss the history and brewing process of the various Belgian beer styles such as Saisons, Blondes, Dubbels, Tripels, Trappist ales, Sours, and Witbiers while you taste your way through the styles. A limited amount of Cantillon will be available for tasting while supplies last.

Wednesday, March 11th

One of the standout breweries that has helped define and shape our local beer culture is Tarpon Springs’ Saint Somewhere. With his take on the Belgian and farmhouse styles, Bob Sylvester has been all but canonized as “Saint Bob” in local beer circles. During Beer Week, grab a ring side seat at Mr. Dunderbak’s in Tampa for the Battle of the Saints as Bob puts his beer trivia knowledge up against the brewmaster from legendary Belgian brewery St. Bernardus. Enjoy a select cheese pairing and beer tasting as these giants collide.

Saint Bob

There has been buzz for several years about South Florida brewery Funky Buddha. They made headlines with their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter a while back, blew everyone away with their incredible Last Snow, and also managed to open a second facility and continue to produce top notch beers of every style. But much to our chagrin, these beers rarely, if ever, made their way to Tampa Bay.  That is all about to change. Their official ingress into the Tampa Bay area beer market will debut at Cigar City Cider and Mead in Ybor City with the Funky Buddha Prelaunch Kickoff. A lineup of 14 beers (including MBCP, Last Snow, Hop Gun, and Mojito Blonde) will be available. if you have never had any of FB’s beers, you have missed out.

Thursday, March 12th

The journey from idea to execution is a long one for would-be brewery owners. The reality of what it takes to make it happen and be successful is usually forgotten and replaced with a romantic mystery of happiness, brotherhood, and financial abundance. Cutting through that is the new documentary film Blood, Sweat, and Beer, screening at Mad Beach Brewing on Madeira Beach. This may mark the first time a film has been an official part of Tampa Bay Beer Week, but I doubt it will be the last.

Blood, Sweat, and Beer

We all know that food pairs with beer better than any other beverage. But how do you decided what dish to match with which brew? Join the Tampa Bay B.E.E.R.S. homebrew club at Southern Brewing and Winemaking for their Try This! pairing event. Experience finely crafted small plates paired with complementary homebrew and commercial craft beers.

Friday, March 13th

Just in the past two years, St. Petersburg has made a name for itself with its amazing beer scene. Right at the heart of that has been Green Bench Brewing. The first in Tampa Bay to have an oak foeder for fermenting, Green bench’s name has become synonymous with sour beers and creative experimentation and blending. Foeder for Thought is in it’s second year, and this year looks to eclipse 2014 with its awesomeness. every beer on tap in the tasting room will be fermented in Oak Foeders from Green Bench Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, Crooked Stave, New Belgium, and more. In addition to foeder beers there will be oak sour beers pouring outside of the tasting room with food trucks, bands and local vendors on site all night. This is an event not to be missed.

Foeder for Thought

Sour beers not your thing? Well, i’ll bet you can’t say no to some delicious smoked meat! The 2nd Annual Brisket & Beer Brew N Que at Pair O’ Dice Brewing in Clearwater will pair the breweries beers with lots of competition quality slow smoked brisket served Texas style. Really, what could be better than beer and BBQ?!

Saturday, March 14th

The big daddy, the show of shows, the grandest stage of them all… I have heard Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day referred to by a number of titles. It lives on, in spite of some of the struggles of 2014. This year those issues appear to have been addressed, and things will be different. But here’s the thing: if you did not get tickets when they were made available a few months back… you are not going. There are no day-of tickets, and attendees will have to bring an ID matching the name on the ticket to get in. Period. So if someone tells you they have an extra or someone near the line to get in comes up and offered you a ticket at half price, they are most likely scamming you. Next week, I will talk about the details of H-Day.

So, no Hunahpu tickets? What’s a beer geek to do? Don’t worry, there are still great things going on around town.

The newly opened HiFi Homebrew and BBQ Supply in Clearwater will dim the lights and bring you HiFi After Dark: The Three B’s (Beer Flicks, Bottle Share & BBQ). You will be treated to a free double feature featuring two classic beer movies. First it’s the brilliant 2013 documentary “Beer Hunter: The Movie”. Shortly after the conclusion of the first film, there will be a bottle share, so make sure you raid your beer stash before attending. Then finish the evening off with the 1983 cult classic “Strange Brew”. HiFi owner Robb Larson will be BBQ’ing pork throughout the evening, so make sure you bring your appetite along with you. While there is plenty of space, chairs are limited so please bring a blanket or chair from home. This is as local as you get!

HiFi Homebrew & BBQ

Sunday, March 15th

Wrapping up the week, you are going to need food, good company, and some hair of the dog. Lucky for you, there are a couple of great options on either side of the bay.

In what has become somewhat of a tradition, 7venth Sun Brewing hosts the weary with Hunahpu Hangover Day. With 7 collaboration beers with Trinity Brewing, Creature Comforts Brewing Co, Funky Buddha Brewery, Wild Oak Artisan Ales, Coppertail Brewing Co, Redlight Redlight Beer Parlor and Point Ybel Brewing Company, and who knows what else will show up, this event has become a staple of Beer Week.

Hunahpu Hangover Day

If you are in the mood for some delicious breakfast items and maybe beered-out by Sunday, check out the Brewer’s Brunch at Southern Brewing & Winemaking. With special mead and cider mimosas and a waffle bar out in the beautiful biergarten, this is a great way to gently bring your festivities to a close.

As a final note, I want to remind everyone to please be safe and responsible during beer week. We want you around next year, and we want everyone to have an amazing time. Remember to hydrate, remember to eat, and whatever you do, please do not drink and drive. Get a cab, call Uber or Lyft, rideshare with a designated driver. There is simply no reason to put you life and the lives of others at risk.

Cheers!

TBBW glasses

One of My Favorites: Stogies and Stouts

•February 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Dunedin Brewery

I say it ever year, and I will say it again. Dunedin Brewery – Florida’s oldest microbrewery – puts on one of the best brewery festivals of the year the last Saturday of every February: Stogies and Stouts. it is, as they put it, a celebration of dark beer, cigar smoke & live music. While I am not a big cigar guy, I do love a good stout (and porters, too). I also love good music. And this event has plenty of both. The beer lineup is huge, as always, but here are some I am looking forward to:

  • Dunedin Brewery (Dunedin, FL) – Midnight Sextant
  • Dunedin Brewery (Dunedin, FL) – Vanilla Mundofolbick (cask)
  • Three Palms (Brandon, FL) – Hot Schtuff (stout brewed with brown sugar, cinnamon, ghost peppers)
  • Pair o Dice (Clearwater, FL) – Hot Cocoa Imperial Stout
  • Cigar City (Tampa, FL) – Iron O’Rourke’s God of Fear
  • Barley Mow (Largo, FL) Nuada (chocolate coffee stout)
  • Nature Coast (Crystal River, FL) – Manatee Milk (imperial coffee chocolate milk stout aged in a Jack Daniels barrel)
  • Funky Buddha (Oakland Park, FL) – OP Porter

And there are always delicious surprises, too… You never know who or what might turn up.

The details for this event are as follows:

February 28th, 2015 – 7pm – 11pm

$35 includes commemorative tasting glass, choice of cigar from Los Blancos Cigar Company & access to 30+ Local & National stouts on draft. Live music by Lingo (from Atlanta, GA). $45 includes meal voucher.

Limited to 350 people. THIS WILL SELL OUT!!! If you do not have a ticket, do not expect to be let in! I have seen it happen.

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dunedin-brewery-stogies-stout-2015-tickets-15071992736

Honestly, you do not want to miss this event if you are at all a dark beer lover. Plus, the vibe is always good, the music is excellent, and the people are cool.

Cheers!

AB/InBev to Redner: “I can haz CCB?”

•February 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The past 48 hours in the Florida beer world has been an experience in shoddy reporting, mind-numbing knee-jerk reactionism, and ultimately comedy. This is what happens when a hack writer takes an innocuous piece of information, surrounds it with vague claims and speculation, and then releases it under the guise of “industry news”. And then other online sources pick it up and run it again as “fact”. Here’s the gist:

A local newspaper ran a story about AB/InBev, the foreign macrobrew corporation that owns Budweiser and claims to make beer “The Hard Way”, reaching out to Cigar City Brewing about an acquisition. Honestly, that is where the article should have ended, because there is no story here. But the author continued on, referencing the much-bashed Superbowl ad, the recent acquisition of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing, and other potential targets (including the very vocal anti-AB breweries Intuition (Jacksonville) and Due South (Boynton Beach). What gets glossed over is probably the most important part of the article, a direct quote from CCB owner, Joey Redner: “We have been approached about having a more in-depth meeting. There hasn’t been a second meeting.”

ABI-CCB

Not surprisingly, reaction from the beer geeks in Florida was fast and furious, with vows to never let Cigar City touch their lips again if the sale happened, to the claim that the Tampa brewery’s sale would not have any effect on Tampa Bay’s beer scene “at all”. The venom was prolific, the hyperbole pretty astonishing. And the journalistic merits of the article itself heavily called into question, and rightly so.

But here are some facts for you:

  • AB/InBev acquires other businesses as part of their business model. That is not new to anyone who follows the industry. They own Goose Island in Chicago. They have minority ownership in Redhook, Widmer, and Kona Brewing. These are not stupid people running AB/InBev. They see the market trends and the assess how they can profit from them. Like it or not, it is an effective model.
  • Cigar City Brewing is successful, well recognized, and in the top tier of Florida breweries in regards to size and perceived value. Of course ABI would be interested.
  • Cigar City Brewing is also a business, and Joey Redner is a businessman. A smart businessman listens to business propositions, even if he has no intention of taking any action. One of Joey’s comments about this whole deal was “We talk with private equity folks all the time. You always take the meeting because information is cool.”

So, does this mean Cigar City is next to be gobbled up by ABI? In a word: no. I give you the following quotes from Joey Redner and head brewer Wayne Wambles:

Wayne (in response to the suggestion of Jai Alai national distribution) – There would not be immediate increase in Jai Alai production in such a manner to distribute nation wide. It is impossible to do that and have the beer be true to brand. The big issue is the allocation of hops to produce the beer. Some of the hops are not standard issue. At that point, the brand would out grow the raw material chain. It’s inevitable either way.

Joey – So that meeting took place BEFORE the 10 Barrel and Elysian deals closed. There hasn’t been a second meeting in that time. Draw your own conclusions and remember newspapers can troll too.

Joey – It is a moot point anyway. We took a meeting. It ain’t much of a story.

Wayne (posted on his Facebook wall) – We are not selling to AB. If you read this, please spread the word.
I am humbled by the fact that many people are concerned and have sent me personal messages but everything is fine.
Enjoy your beer and relax.

Is that clear enough for you?  Does that mean Cigar City will never be sold? Of course not. Remember that part about Joey being a businessman? I’ll give you one last quote:

Joey – For a hundred million, I’d stop liking beer.

One thing that so many of the beer lovers forget is that while we all like to think it is all about the beer, for the people that do the brewing and run the breweries, it is also about the business. At the end of the day, when they do the books, the numbers better be black. While very few people get into brewing to get rich, none go in to fail.

A word of caution before I sign off: beware articles about the industry written by someone with little knowledge of it. And before you go screaming to the heavens “WHY HATH THOU FORSAKEN MY BEER?!?!” you need to a) gain a little perspective, and b) maybe ask around to get clarity on things.

Cheers.

That’s what woods are for… For those moments in the woods…

•February 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

We are moving into February swiftly, and that means the beer events are coming fast and furious… We have already had the Cajun cafe on the Bayou Cider and Mead Fest (which I missed, unfortunately), and tonight is the celebration of the Ale & the Witch’s 4th anniversary! Congrats, by the way, to Brett and his staff for taking a ghost-town of a plaza and turning into the place to be in St. Pete for beer lovers.

featureslider_lostinthewoods_2015_s

This weekend the Witch is having a very special event alongside New Belgium Brewing called Lost in the Woods. This very limited ticketed event is a simultaneous one across the country, a New Belgium Brewing 2015 release party of their La Folie.

Only 50 seats total are available for this event which includes:
Meet up at the Bar at 8:30 to check in and get a Le Terroir Draft (an American sour aged in New Belgium Foeders then dry hopped w/ Amarillo hops).
The group then goes upstairs for a private dessert & sour pairing including these:

La Folie 2015 draft serving paired w/ a fig bread w/ apple & fennel jam, taleggio, candied bacon & tarragon.

Transatlantic Kriek 2015 draft serving paired w/ fromage fraiche w/ roasted cherries & chocolate toffee.
New Belgium Love/Felix aged in cherry whiskey barrels draft serving paired w/ Tahitian vanilla ice cream.

After the dessert pairings all ticket holders receive a bottle of the 2015 La Folie (before it is even available in the stores).

Desserts are created and made by local chef Jeffrey Jew.

A live video feed will be on from inside the New Belgium Brewing’s Foeder Forest in Fort Collins, CO  and a toast will be made across the country with all participating release parties and the Brewery itself.

Cheers to 2015 La Folie and the release of another amazing blended year.

The tasting notes of the rare keg from the Brewery only available here and there:
(NBB Love/Felix aged in Cherry Whiskey Barrel) – 8.5% abv
This is a single source delight from one special foeder of perfectly soured Felix our light base beer. When tasting through the cellar, we found it deliciously complex all on its own, no blending necessary! We then laid it down in a Cherry Whiskey barrel from Leopold Brothers Distillery. This peaches n’ cream-colored beer shines with a light glowing haze. The fruity color is reflected in the aroma, decadently rich and syrupy in cherries and almonds with a zippy grapefruit pith added in. Big blast of oak vanillin in from aging in the whiskey barrel, giving the impression of a slice of tart cherry pie a la mode when they combine with the fruits. As expected, a brisk, puckering, enduring sourness is in the fore, offset somewhat by the slight cherry sweetness in the background. The medium body finishes dry and crisp, readying you for the next sip.

Lost in the Woods
Get your tickets at the bar in person only as they are $30 each and this event will sell out (if it hasn’t already) so plan ahead.

Lots more to come in the next few days!

Cheers!

Dads Who Cook… And Drink Beer…

•January 21, 2015 • 2 Comments

dadcook

There was a time where it was unusual for fathers to be present in the kitchen at home. To some, the idea of dad making dinner was as absurd as mom working in the office. Those days are long gone. Cooking – be it professional or at home – knows no gender. I fancy myself a pretty good cook, and I learned a lot from my father, who was (and still is) an excellent cook. I especially enjoy cooking from scratch, or at least not from packages. Putting together ingredients and combining flavors is a melding of science and art that – when done well – is rarely matched in other parts of life.

Regardless of what I am cooking, from the most basic spaghetti and butter to a multi-stage, five course feast, a constant no matter what is (you guessed it) good beer to drink while cooking. This is not the time for the Imperial stouts or double IPAs; you don’t want to dull your senses or wreck your palate! Everyone has their favorites, but I find a good pale ale or lower ABV IPA works well. Cigar City Invasion Pale, Tampa Bay Brewing Company Reef Donkey APA, and Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale are my go-to beers in these instances. Sierra Nevada Pale is also a great around-the-kitchen brew.

Why do I bring this up? Because I recently discovered Dad’s Diner, a new web series that is simply dads like me cooking up simple but tasty recipes for their kids, all while enjoying a beer or two and having fun.

With some easy to follow videos, and a good serving of humor, I am looking forward to what these guys are going to put out over the next few months. Ken, Scott, and Josh are the main dads behind Dad’s Diner, and all now live in Los Angeles (my hometown). This is the excerpt from their page:

Ken is the only LA native of the group. Ken has always felt at home in the kitchen, so much so that he let us film the series in his kitchen. Sushi would rank as his favorite food. Watching the Seahawks would rank as his favorite past time. When he’s not eating or watching the game, he works as a web designer.
Scott is the brains of the outfit. Born in Detroit, once he got a taste of the L.A. lifestyle, he never left. Scott is a writer, director, omnivore and food scientist (you’ll see his sous vide machine soon). There is nothing Scott won’t eat, particularly if it is covered in bacon.
Josh was born in Chicago, and has been an avid eater ever since. He emigrated to SoCal for film school. He enjoys woodworking, fly fishing, and craft beer (time permitting). But the question always on his mind is “what should we eat next?”

I think I may have to track them down next time I am in LA. Maybe I’ll bring some local Florida beers to share! In the meantime, check out their first episode.

Cheers!

corruptissima re publica plurimae leges

•January 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“When the republic is at its most corrupt the laws are most numerous.” – Tacitus

It is January, 2015, and you know what that means! Yep, the battle begins anew. For anyone who is new to the Florida Beer War, I will give you a quick summary of 2014: it was a stalemate. The growing brewing industry in the Sunshine State attempted to get some of the laws regarding container sizes adjusted to put us more in line with other states by allowing 64 ounce growlers (you know, the standard size that every other state uses?), and to allow tastings in retail outlets similar to the way wine has been done for a long time. There was nothing hidden in the agenda, there was no change of anything else.  The effort was met with a full-frontal assault on the brewing industry by distributor industry juggernaut, Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. The result was several counter-bills filed by bought-and-paid-for politicians (with zero understanding of the industry) that would have seriously impacted breweries abilities to do business and survive. Luckily, a tide rose against them, and these bills were shot down. There were some attempts at compromise, but it became clear that even though there was some movement within the industry, the politicians were entrenched, and resorted to patronizing comments about “mommy knows best” when it became clear they would not get their (and their donors’) way.

stargel

So much for less government intrusion, eh?

It was with cautious optimism that many people watched as notable brewery representatives sat down with their counterparts in the distribution tier to discuss what might be for 2015. Talk of “clean” growler legislation right off the bat had lots of people thinking we had finally won the day. Growler stations began popping up in retailers around the state, something no one thought they’d see. Even big retailers like ABC were getting on board! Could our message have been heard loud and clear and the other side have a change of heart?

To quote the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Life is pain, princess. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

Recognizing that there was no appetite for legislation restricting brewery activity even further than it already was, industry groups have colluded to take the fight away from the legislative side (and away from public forums) by filing a law suit against the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco for “incorrectly” enforcing existing law. Led by the Florida Independent Spirits Association, Inc. and the Florida Retail Federation, and backed by not only the now-infamous FBWH, but the Beer Industry of Florida (the other big distributor group) as well, the assault has begun anew, flush with many of the same claims about “protecting consumers” and “maintaining fairness” and “clarifying the laws”. Not surprisingly, few – if any – in the brewing industry see it that way. In fact, they feel very much under attack by a bigger and much-better funded bully.

I won’t try to sum up the lawsuit itself. I am not a lawyer, and frankly, the details of the suit are not the point for me. If you want an analysis of it, you should read Ross Appel’s explanation of what is going on. There has been a very vocal outcry in response to this lawsuit from across the spectrum. Breweries, consumers, retailers, and so on are all angry that, once again, powerful special interests are pushing actions that are going to hurt existing and prospective local breweries. (By the way, Eric Criss, the claim that “such clarification will not impact brewers who currently hold retail licenses; and furthermore, that it will protect the public by preserving Florida’s state-based alcohol regulatory system” is cynical and disingenuous at best!)

The Florida Brewers Guild is gearing up for a fight. This is a different battlefield than the legislature. You can’t win people over with facts and presentations and a line of supporters pleading your case, and public comment is limited to social media and the web… and your dollars. Legal battles are rarely cheap, so FBG is asking for your help through a crowdsourcing effort. If you can, check it out and donate whatever works for you. They need every bit of help they can get.

Don't Tread On Craft Beer

T-Shirt Design by Hopcloth

But something else has been bothering me for a while now. I have heard it mentioned once or twice in conversations I have had with friends and colleagues, but it didn’t start to gel until this past week. What if this isn’t about Florida breweries at all?

I’ll let you think about that for a moment.

It is easy for those of us active in the community to think we are legion in numbers. We see endless beer posts every day, see lots of people at our favorite places, and it seems like there is always news of another brewery opening up nearby. But the reality is, we are still very small in the larger world of adult beverages. Consumers of craft beer – as defined by the Brewers Association – still only make up single-digit percentages of the beer sold in the U.S. Yes, it is growing every year, but big beer is still making billions, if not trillions. Yes, they are losing shelf and tap space in some markets, but they are really doing just fine. And let’s look at who the driving forces behind this lawsuit are: corporate retailers and distributors.

What would happen if AB/InBev decided to return to Florida and build a new brewery? They certainly can afford to, and probably could make it as slick and inviting and fun as anyone. And let’s say they decided to open a tasting room as well. All kinds of AB products available, fresh on tap. Even some “limited release” stuff. And some bottle releases. And you know, since we’re here, lets through some cases of Bud and Michelob and Shock Top in the big fancy walk-in cooler as well. Since they are a tasting room, attached to a brewery, why not?  And, as far as I know, there is no law that says their prices have to be higher than the retail stores like ABC or Publix. So now, you can swing into the taproom on your way to the frat-house and get fresh long-necks… for cheaper than the store.

Suddenly, ABI is now circumventing the second tier. And they are doing well, so they open another one. And another. And then use their considerable clout to push for a relaxation of distribution law. And the distributor is cut out of the equation entirely. I guarantee you, they are much more worried about losing sales of Bud Light than they are of any of the local breweries.

So, I may be playing at conjecture here, but it is an interesting idea.

In the meantime, we have work to do. While this is not currently a legislative issue, it might turn in to one. You can be sure that this fight will have numerous fronts, and we need to be ready to fight on all of them. That means educating our legislators and the public, it means letting the trade groups know how you feel about what is happening, and most importantly, it means supporting your local breweries and locally owned retailers. Know where your favorite places stand on the issue. If they don’t know, educate them.

But be nice.

Look at your local representative’s record on the issues last session, and see how they voted. If they were on the wrong side, let them know.

But be nice.

Post comments to the trade groups (apparently they are asking us too!) and tell them what you think.

But be nice.

Remember that ugly attacks simply do not work. In fact, they make us look like idiots. Use facts. Use stories. Try to refrain from profanity (I know it is hard sometimes). And go sign this petition. Every bit helps.

This is a fight that will go on a while, until Florida can scratch and claw its way towards the mindset that places like Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Michigan have (in regards to beer, anyway).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and I will do my small part to try to keep the dialogue going and the information flowing.

Cheers.

Florida Breweries

 
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