Florida Craft Brewers Fight Against AB-InBev

cigarcityFans of the site know that we enjoy highlighting the weirdest liquor laws that the many varied US states have to offer. From limitations on how strong a beer needs to be to how and where you can purchase beer there is seemingly no end to the archaic and nonsensical laws on the books that make the lives harder for beer drinkers and makers to do what they love.

We have written before about Florida’s restriction from allowing consumers to purchase the standard 64oz growler that we in Pennsylvania are most familiar with. In the sunshine state beer sales must less or equal to 32oz or somehow greater than or equal to 64oz; which is a significant quantity of beer.

Florida craft brewers have been dealing with an uncooperative legislature that seem transfixed against changing the law. In a revision that would decrease regulation and increase free market competition this seems like an easy victory for small business minded politicians in Florida. So why the hold up?

It might have something to do with Senate President Don Gaetz who when asked couldn’t explain why half-gallon growlers were illegal in his state. He justification was, however, quite enlightening:

“I’m with the beer distributors in my district. That’s a very important issue because one of my very best friends is an Anheuser-Busch distributor and he never talks to me about his business. It’s always about what are we going to do for disabled children, what are we going to do for the arts, what are we going to do for economic development. But this time he’s talking about growlers.”

Gaetz admission is that he is only willing to entertain beer legislation changes proposed to him by AB-InBev distributor Lewis Bear. The same Lewis Bear who works for the company that has coincidentally contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political committees and candidates. This includes over a quarter million dollars to the Florida Republican Party and apparently $31,000 to Governor Rick Scott’s campaign committee.

Lewis Bear isn’t an unreasonable man though. He supports the legalization of half-gallon growlers so long as craft brewers accept a few minor conditions. Minor conditions like the ban of full gallon growlers, ban of sales of bottles, cans, kegs at the brewery, ban of sales of collaboration brews, and a ban of guest taps at the breweries. I know that text is a poor medium for sarcasm but those conditions are neither minor nor sensible. They are intentionally detrimental changes to existing law so that craft breweries might be able to sell traditional half-gallon growlers they will only be able to do so at the expense of any other advantages craft breweries might have over mass market breweries. A trade off that no craft brewer wants to make.

Josh Aubuchon, a lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild responded, “It’s extremely insulting and it’s extraordinarily punitive. It’s so anti-free market, anti-consumer … For no reason, in order for the craft breweries to get something positive, they have to give up something. It’s ludicrous.”

This is yet another hurdle that craft breweries have to contend with when competing against mass market breweries. Brewing giants like AB-InBev or MillerCoors have the financial superiority to purchase access to legislatures which too often means a quid-pro-quo that someone is not considered corruption in our political system.

Refusing to change Florida’s nonsensical and anachronistic growler restriction because a single individual who has donated a ton of cash to your political party is the high of political corruption whether our system considers it to be true corruption or not. It appears that powerful distributors for AB-InBev have the ear of the Florida legislature and if Florida is going to legalize the use of traditional growlers it is going to come with severely adverse effects for small breweries.

This coming from the party and politicians that argue that the invisible hand of the free market is what decides the winners and losers in a cut throat, competitive American system. The hypocrisy is palpable.

I hope that the craft brewers of Florida can resolve this fairly without having to lose more rights to get their beer to customers in a similar fashion as 47 other states.

This is just one more example of pay to play that gives an unfair advantage to large brewers over small.

Source: Miami Herald