Florida Guild Update

Support and development of State Brewers Guilds remains a major focus of the Brewers Association. Acacia Coast, the trade group’s State Brewers Association Coordinator, continues to help the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings with many of them centered on initial guild formation.

Recently, Acacia provided an update on her trip to Florida.

“What’s orange and quenching, sometimes fruity and sour, and oh-so-Florida?” queried Laura Reiley, in a Tampa Bay Times front page article on Feb 26.

“If you guessed orange juice, you haven’t been paying attention. It appears beer is Florida’s new liquid gold.”

In early March, I had the opportunity to meet with the Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) and attend their guild festival held in the historic Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City. According to the Brewers Association, Florida is home to 30 pubs, 26 micros, 58 breweries in planning, and 2 regional breweries. Though Florida is the 4th most populous state in the nation, it lands at number 44 for breweries per capita according to our 2011 data. This tells me there’s huge potential in a clearly highly underserved market. And the attendee line for the festival, which started hours before the gates opened, reflected exactly that.

Held in a ballroom of the Hilton Garden Ybor City, as it was last year, the annual guild meeting was standing room only. There is strong craft brewery support for the Florida Brewers Guild –voting membership is at an all-time high. The FBG Board (led by guild President Craig Birkmaier, brewmaster for Swamp Head Brewing) welcomed part time guild director and attorney at law, Josh Aubuchon, hired in October 2012. Josh previously worked as the guild lobbyist and has hit the ground running with a significant craft-related bill introduced in the current legislative session and the large annual festival now completed.

I provided updates on guilds nationwide, resources available to the guilds, American Craft Beer Week, the Craft Brewers Conference, the BA’s diligent work on federal initiatives and issues affecting brewers nationwide.

By end of year, Josh sees the possibility of over 60 registered guild brewery members. Strong on voting membership, the FBG is now considering other membership tiers to further the guild goals of craft beer education and promotion. Allied trade and enthusiast memberships are offered by many other guilds, and can be an excellent source of funds if executed successfully. They are also looking at a homebrewer community membership, seeing that there were 700 entries in the Florida state fair homebrewing competition.

Jim Massoni, guild treasurer and president of the Florida Beer Company, is leading the charge to conduct an economic impact study of craft beer in the state. They have engaged several universities and I offered a few resources as well, including the Colorado Brewers Guild’s survey template. The FBG is going to continue these discussions and will hopefully have a full report next year.

Josh told the group, that it’s a good time to be a craft brewer. The Florida Brewers Guild is no longer an irritation to elected officials having now secured a seat at the table in the legislative process. The Florida Brewers Guild is actively petitioning to change the law to allow for containers of 64 ounces. Florida’s current package law allows beer to be sold for off-premise consumption in up to 32 oz. and over 128 oz. containers, but prohibits 64 oz. containers, the package traditionally called a “growler”. Currently, House Bill 715, sponsored by Representative Katie Edwards (D – Broward), proposes to remove these restrictions.

Jim presented the fiscal report, indicating income was strong last year, but with new expenses and a growing festival, the FBG will need to raise some major funds to balance out in 2014. Discussions included hosting additional regional festivals around the state, additional membership and a guild collaboration beer. There’s potential to set guild tables at all FL craft beer events to talk about guild initiatives, recruit members, and build the guild brand. The guild also intends to offer a beer industry summit/trade meeting in Orlando in the summer to include seminars on beer-related topics such as licensing, quality control and sensory analysis.

The FBG made huge strides toward promoting the guild by commissioning a new logo and a gorgeous new website: FloridaBrewersGuild.org. The site has sharp functionality and it includes a member list with a FL beer trail map. The Advocacy page includes info on the Growler Bill, contacts for local representatives and senators and email/letter templates for communications. A resources tab includes the relevant laws governing opening and operating a brewery in Florida and member brewery job openings across the state.

Held alongside the second annual Tampa Bay Beer Week, the brew festival was in a new location this year and attendance was very strong, attracting 2600 attendees. The guild offered both a basic general admission ticket and a VIP ticket. VIP admission cost twice the GA price, but included early entry and a separate area with specialty food and brews.

With high taxes, a massive, thirsty population, limited craft breweries and archaic laws hindering the growth of existing craft breweries in this giant market, there’s definitely room for progress and the Florida Brewers Guild is on point to ensure the success of Florida Craft Beer!