In 47 states, beer drinkers can happily purchase and imbibe from 64-ounce growlers, the glass jugs commonly sold at smaller or craft breweries. In Florida, Prohibition-era laws have kept the size illegal, prompting a years-long effort by Sunshine State craft brewers and supporters to join the rest of the nation and drop the ban.
The result was Florida House Bill 1329, which proposed legalizing the larger size. But after the bill made it to the state Senate in late March, an amendment was added -- thanks to the influence of industry titan Anheuser-Busch -- that critics say would effectively cut Florida's nascent craft brewing industry at its knees: Craft brewers would be prohibited from selling their own products themselves, instead being forced to pay a distributor to act as a middleman.
"Say I make my product at my facility and I have a place of sale at my own facility," Johnathan Wakefield, the owner of soon-to-open Miami craft brewery J. Wakefield Brewing, tells Riptide. "Now I have to pay somebody else to sell my product? At my own place? That's like... the Mafia."
On Monday, the bill crept along further in the Senate, passing a rules committee vote 9-4. The distributor requirement is supported by Senate President Don Gaetz (R-1st District), who appears to under the influence of lobbyists representing Anheuser-Busch InBev distributors, the main driver of the amendment.
Several craft brewery owners marched on the state capitol Monday to protest:
A photo of the brewery owners posted on Proof Brewing Company's facebook page.
Photo by Proof Brewing Company via Facebook.
"It almost makes you feel like they're trying to roll everything back to Prohibition," Wakefield says of the bill. "What these people are trying to do goes against everything that the United States is about."
Because Wakefield plans to open his new brewery in Wynwood before July 1, his business would in part be grandfathered in, he says, meaning he would still be required to pay a markup distributor cost but could at least maintain a tasting room to retail his own product. Any brewers that were to open after July 1 would be limited to distribution sales only -- meaning no tasting rooms, and likely no new craft breweries at all.
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"By doing this, you're basically sending us back like 30 or 40 years," Wakefield says. "The only people it's helping are the people that are already making a crap-ton of money. It is not helping small business."