It’s so good to know that on this most beery of American holidays, our backyard celebrations won’t be menaced by evil growlers of craft beer. Not in Florida, anyway.
Our ever-vigilant state legislators have made sure that these subversive, unpatriotic 64-ounce jugs can’t be smuggled into Florida homes, corrupting our very way of life.
Beer can be hauled away from craft breweries in 32-ounce containers. Or in gallon jugs. But 64-ounce growlers? No! No! No! That would be wrong.
It would also be inconvenient for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which has invested a substantial amount of money making sure that the Florida Legislature puts the interests of Big Beer — think Bud — ahead of these nuisance small-time breweries that have been popping up across the state.
The wholesalers association has been credited with snuffing out legislation last spring that would have lifted the state’s peculiar prohibition of 64-ounce take-home growlers, which is pretty much the national standard for the burgeoning craft brew industry. After a bit of behind-the-scene arm twisting, Rep. Katie Edwards’ 64-ounce legalization bill was consigned to oblivion — no hearing, no vote — in the House Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee. (At the time Edwards, a Plantation Democrat, was obviously miffed, but she was taking a conciliatory stance Wednesday. “With time, I believe the issue will be resolved.”)
Florida Beer Wholesalers claimed it was only protecting the sacred “three tiered” system Florida adopted after prohibition, designed to forever separate the manufacture, distribution and retail sales of alcohol Because, without the three tiers, the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano would be peddling beer growlers out behind Florida’s elementary schools.
Besides, Big Beer claims that Florida craft breweries, with their chichi tasting rooms and take-away sales, were exploiting a loophole in an old Florida law originally intended to allow beer sales only at Busch Gardens (as in Anheuser-Busch, the beer giant devoured by the Belgium beer conglomerate InBev in 2008).
So I asked the brew expert Evan Benn, a Miami Herald reporter better known as the online beer columnist for Esquire Magazine (and as the former beer critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Evan knows all about the Florida growler controversy. “I was actually reading up on the latest last night while enjoying a Florida craft-brewed cedar-aged Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City. This move was definitely aimed at small brewers.”
He added, “No one who owns a growler (myself included) goes out looking to fill it with Bud Light or Coors. It’s the way craft breweries and brewpubs — many of which don’t yet have the capital to package their beers in bottles or cans — get their beers out to the public in a convenient, affordable way.”
By Cigar City, Benn was referring to Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, described as a “15 barrel [one barrel is 31 gallons] brewhouse occupying 6,600 sq. ft. of warehouse space” with 19 nineteen fermentors and 52 employees. Vice President Justin Clark told me Wednesday that he’s pretty sure the Big Beer boys were mostly interested in tamping down competition from upstart breweries while they’re still upstarts.