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Beer Growlers: A Waste of Your Tax Dollars

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Yesterday a committee of the Florida Senate unanimously passed Florida SB 1344. The bill -- introduced by Bill Latvala, a Republican senator from Pinellas County -- doesn't have anything to do with campaign finance reform or tourist development taxes or ethics. It has to do with allowing Florida breweries to sell 64-ounce growlers.

Growlers, by the way, are refillable bottles that contain beer. Long before suds were mass-produced and available at grocery stores, they were brought home from the local pub in lidded buckets or bottles. The noise of the CO2 gas escaping sounded like a growl -- hence the name.

The typical size of the modern-day beer growler in 47 states is 64 ounces -- a half-gallon of beer. But because Florida has to be contrary, growlers in the Sunshine State can hold no more than 32 ounces of "malt beverage." 

SB 1344 changes that rule. The bill, which was passed by the Regulated Industries committee in a favorable vote of eight to zero, allows for the sale of "individual containers containing 64 ounces" of beer, beginning July 1. Here's the entire bill:
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:

Section 1. Subsection (7) of section 563.06, Florida 10 Statutes, is renumbered as subsection (8), and subsection (6) of 11 that section is amended to read:

563.06 Malt beverages; imprint on individual container; size of containers; exemptions.-- (6) All malt beverages packaged in individual containers sold or offered for sale by vendors at retail in this state shall be in individual containers containing 64 ounces, or a lesser size containing no more than 32 ounces, of such malt beverages.; provided, however, that nothing contained in
(7) This section does not shall affect malt beverages packaged in bulk, or in kegs or in barrels, or in an any individual container containing 1 gallon or more of such malt beverage regardless of individual container type.

Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2013.
But that's not all. Because this is the government at work, this little bill that allows breweries to sell 64-ounce containers of beer (when, mind you, buying two 32-ounce bottles has always been perfectly legal) comes with a five-page "bill analysis and fiscal impact statement." The statement asserts that Florida has a three-tier system for selling alcoholic beverages. Breweries fall under the two license options that allow vendors to manufacture malt beverages for sale directly to consumers. The current law allows malt beverages offered for sale by vendors to be packaged in individual containers no larger than 32 ounces. The study also states that the "national standard size for a growler is 64 ounces" and that "Florida law does not permit the use of a 64-ounce growler."

So what does all of this mean? It means that after one month, two votes, and a five-page study -- funded by tax money that could have been better spent on helping public schools or improving roads -- people in Florida can buy larger bottles of beer that, once opened, are good for only about 48 hours before they go bad.

schnebly growler.jpg
Schnebly via Facebook
Wook at the wittle Growler...
Look, I love beer as much as the next gal (maybe more than many of you), and I go to Schnebly Redland's Winery and bring home a few growlers of Big Rod Ale from Miami Brewing Company when I'm there. I really do enjoy the hint of coconut in the brew and the fact that I'm buying local. I'm also greatly anticipating Wynwood and Gravity and all the other breweries that are coming to Miami, and I realize the ability of a small brewery to offer different options to its customers is a good thing and increases the little guy's revenue.

But to have the Florida Senate discuss the merits of a larger container of beer when our economy is in the red is proof of the wastefulness of our government. Come election time, we really need to vote out all politicians who throw our tax dollars to the wind. That's something I can raise a glass to.

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7 comments
Miamimaltbomb
Miamimaltbomb

Like many other issues and legislative items, it IS stupid that they even really have to debate this. Still, over the years, the Florida Legislature has been so boneheaded and backward, using public dollars to debate antiquated, misguided laws is inevitable, as we move, kicking and screaming in some more-conservative quarters, to becoming a more progressive, free, open state.

Letting one "wrong" stand in the name of saving tax dollars doesn't make a right, it just leaves another POS disingenuous law on the books.

KeAraFoods
KeAraFoods

Hello Laine and everyone participating in the beginning of what I believe is a very important dialog, and motions like these bills for Beer (SB 1344)  and wine (House Bill 623) allow the opportunity to have these opinions and discuss these in a much larger scope then what has been done in the past regarding these amazing WINS for Food and Beverage related bills for our state. As John expressed from Funky Buddha Brewery earlier Thank You Laine for getting the News out there, as the headline will help capture more attention :) , and for at least attempting to write a story on a subject matter that obviously touches sour notes in your mind regarding how our tax dollars and government time is utilized without getting to to personal which I agree with some of your points a 1000%% percent. Although as @jeff1115  was the first to admit, it does seem like you took this opportunity in writing this story to get on what you thought was your personal soapbox without properly researching and/or evaluating the affects of these bills on our state.

As a young Food Entrepreneur and newly elected Treasurer of the South Florida Food Policy Council-Miami-Dade Chapter, and someone who has devoted their lives to all things food related I would like to offer you and everyone reading a different perspective. And please @MikeHalker @JohnLinn please chime in if any corrections are needed, these bills have been a LONG time coming and very happy to see them actually moved forward by the The Florida Senate Committee on Regulated Industries.

As someone whose committed to local sustainable food and business I see my frustrations elsewhere, YES The State of Florida is in the RED, but I don't believe that we have to WAIT for government to resolve these issues for our state. Since the tanking of the economy in 2008 still being felt today, the only things reconceptualizing our economy, creating jobs, still providing us our goods and services has been Entrepreneurship and Small Business not Tallahassee. What the Bills have allowed these beverage sectors is stimulate our local economy, opening the doors for new brewers to see opportunities in their "new abilities" to expand keeping our dollars closer to home, creating jobs, promoting local healthy value where it matters the most. I believe its time to reform old laws that do nothing but hinder the only attempts at making a positive change for the people (Ara) of the earth (Ke') instead of always siding with the BIG corporations who rather see the money going in their pockets instead of securing the markets of a specific state. Perhaps its hard to see the Macro of these things when we still believe that government should be finding the solutions for us but I'd like to thank my colleagues and organizations like Florida Brewers Guild for their hard work in getting this beautiful state back in the Green the best way they know how and thats through FOOD & BEER! Congrats and I raise my glasses to you!

Jonathan Lago of Ke'Ara Food Collective

jeff1115
jeff1115

If you just want to gripe about the efficiency of legislative process, wouldn't it be better to get a personal blog or something? This is an interesting, newsworthy story, and you just used it as an opportunity to complain. Seems fairly irresponsible.

JohnLinn
JohnLinn

Hi Laine, John Linn from Funky Buddha Brewery here. I read your piece this morning and wanted to first say thanks for starting the conversation here. This bill has been a long time in the making, and I believe it's important people know exactly what it's about and why it's being presented at this time. 

I do, however, respectfully disagree that the bill is wasteful or that it's throwing taxpayer dollars into the wind. The point you raise about our legislature being effective in its use of time and money is a good one -- who doesn't want our state lawmakers to be focusing on important stuff such as jobs and economy? (Especially in a time where the state economy is "in the red" as you put it.) But I think the value of this bill -- particularly within the local economy -- is probably a bit greater than you've expressed. 

Florida's package size laws are fairly antiquated, most of them being throwbacks to prohibition. The current law allows for both 32 oz and gallon growler fills by businesses designated as beer manufacturers, but nothing in between those sizes. As you noted in your piece, 64 oz growlers are legal for use in 47 states. This makes them something of an industry standard. And for good reason: 32 oz growlers are considered too small at just two pints, making the cost and effort to lug the glass jugs around more unfavorable. Gallon growlers are largely considered too big, mainly because -- as you rightly note -- growlers are meant to be consumed fresh, and a gallon of beer is more difficult to consume within that freshness window. 

While it might not seem like a big deal to simply purchase two 32 oz growlers and fill them both, that's actually not the best strategy. First, this process would take workers much longer than filling one 64 oz growler. At Funky Buddha, for example, we will have a state of the art growler filling machine that fills growlers automatically, purging them of oxygen and improving their freshness window. However, the bulk of the time that it takes to fill these growlers is in setup -- once the process of the fill begins, it's actually quite fast. So filling two 32 oz growlers rather than one 64 oz version -- despite being the same in total volume -- would undoubtedly take longer. In a busy bar, time is money. Not to mention the cost of glass and materials are not on a linear scale either.  For both the retailer and the consumer, buying two 32 oz growlers as opposed to one 64 oz growler is simply more expensive. Plus, the expense and trouble of ordering, branding, storing, and selling both 32 oz growlers AND gallon growlers is not as amenable as simply using the standard size adopted country-wide.

The fact is, a 64 oz growler is simply a wiser economic choice for both the consumer and the brewer. And this is where the crux of the argument lies: these economic choices, which may at first glance appear pedantic, are in fact just that -- economic choices. They have an impact -- and a dramatic one at that -- on local breweries and the individuals they employee. As the number of breweries within the state continues to climb, the effect of changing laws such as this package law compounds. I know the team at Funky Buddha is excited for this change and the growth of the industry in South Florida and beyond. 

Before I get too long winded (too late!), allow me to further contextualize this proposed change in package law. The Florida Sentate Committee on Regulated Industries accepted this bill just yesterday, allowing it to be sent to the state legislature this summer. This committee convenes just twice per month for two hours at a time, and makes decisions such as this year round for a number of industries that have broad economic impact -- from alcohol and tobacco to gaming and real estate. I can fully sympathize with the notion of a group of puffed shirt lawmakers wasting air, money, and time pouring over mundane details. Yet this committee is hardly that. 

In fact, earlier this month, the committee addressed a similar bill (House Bill 623) that proposed a similar change to allowable package size for wine. That bill will undoubtedly do good to promote better prices, increased sales and job growth at "pour your own" wine bars, for example. More comparable to this growler bill is a law that went through the Florida legislative process in 1999 and went on to pass in the house later that year. That law allowed beer to be sold in packages other than 12 oz and 32 oz bottles, which were previously the only legal packages for beer in the state. Some might have kvetched over this "unimportant" change at the time, but for the Florida Brewer's Guild (the same group that has lobbied tirelessly for this growler bill and other laws for years) it was a major win. Years later, craft beer has boomed in Florida, creating an entirely new industry that did not exist before. We have that bill to thank. 

Lastly, I would contemplate the main opponents of this bill, and most bills that would seek to lessen restrictions on breweries within the state: The Florida Wholesalers Association. In other words, Budweiser, MillerCoors, and the like. Not to harp on some cliche about "The Man" or the evils of Big Beer, but there's a reason this group does not want Florida's blossoming brewing industry to grow any larger. Conversely, I would think that many of your readers could produce several more compelling reasons why it should. 

Thank you for your time and your effort to bring this to light! Continued Cheers to you all!

John Linn

Funky Buddha Brewery

MikeHalker
MikeHalker

@JohnLinn Hi John, Mike Halker here, President of the Florida Brewers Guild.  Great reply and thanks for taking the time to do so.  I would like to comment that while you are correct that distributors are our opponents, it is only the FBWA, made up primarily of Budweiser distributors that are our opponents.  Beer Industry of Florida, primarily Miller distributors, has come out in support of our bill.  Also, Pepin distributing has come out opposed to our bill and even sent someone to testify against us.  We will be putting out more info soon but in the meantime we'll keep fighting the good fight.  Cheers!

murdermysterymiami
murdermysterymiami

@MikeHalker @JohnLinn Hello John and Mike:  Laine Here.  I completely agree that we should encourage the emerging trend of small craft brewers coming to Florida -- south Florida in particular. What I wanted to address is the waste of tax dollars for studies and multiple votes on the and other bills -- especially now when our state and the nation are buckling up and scaling down on nearly everything.  John, your stating that there was a similar bill for packaging wine actually proved my point. Multiple bills, laws, studies, time spent voting for something actually so primary. There has to be a better way to do things in local, state, and federal government. I guess my 32 ounce growlers will now make good vases, as I prepare space in my cupboard for larger containers in which to fill with fresh, local brew.

captain_picard
captain_picard

@murdermysterymiami

If you just want to gripe about the efficiency of legislative process, wouldn't it be better to get a personal blog or something? This is an interesting, newsworthy story, and you just used it as an opportunity to complain. Seems fairly irresponsible.

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