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 has helped the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings.
Acacia provides and update on here trip to Florida.
The first of March brought me to Tampa for the annual Florida Brewers Guild meeting and beer festival. There was an excellent upgrade in venues for both events this year, with a move from Ybor City to the Tampa Marriott Waterside and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, respectively.
Founded in 1996 by Tampa brewers, the Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) was established to unite the craft beer industry with advocacy and sharing best practices in order to elevate brewing across the state. Today, the FBG is more effective and boasts more strength than ever. The FBG has been immensely successful over the last couple years in bringing positive light to enthusiasts of delicious Florida craft beers.More importantly, the FBG has also developed an influential presence in Tallahassee when it comes to effecting legislative change.
The FBG is headed by President Mike Halker of Due South Brewing and stewarded by Executive Director Josh Aubuchon who is also the FBG’s general counsel and lobbyist. Josh remarks that his “job is to not just serve as the shield for the guild, but he is also the sword for the guild.”
Florida’s small independent brewery count has been flourishing. Almost twenty new breweries opened up last year and the Brewers Association currently counts 88 breweries-in-planning. Production has grown from 64,531 bbls in 2011, to 92,512 bbls in 2012. Stay tuned, Florida’s final 2013 production will be announced in just a couple weeks.
Consistently working towards positive change, the past perception of the FBG has been that the guild exists simply to pass the growler law. This is now not the case, Mike says. “We have opposition in Tallahassee… We have to fight for what we have and then fight for what we want. If we sit down, rights like tasting rooms could be taken away.”
Current Florida law allows craft breweries to fill and sell unlimited amounts of 128 oz (1 gallon) and 32 oz (1 quart) growlers, but the most common 64 oz (half-gallon) growlers are banned. This law has long been a contentious issue. The Senate President Don Gaetz even publically admitted to The Associated Press he doesn’t know the reasoning behind the 64 oz container ban. He has however decided to support the wholesalers on the issue, despite claiming to be a pro-business legislator, declaring “one of my very best friends is an ABI distributor.” Though the ABI distributors are in opposition to allowing the growlers, many of the independent and MillerCoors distributors support the FBG in their push for this seemingly simple common container.
Last year, the FBG’s growler bill was held up in committee and not allowed to move forward. The FBG notified the public and after representatives were inundated with emails and calls they quickly became overwhelmed. A testament to the power of the FBG’s grassroots effort, this year representatives are visiting breweries and asking what they can do for brewery businesses in their district. Josh remarked, “It seems craft beer drinkers are fairly noisy folks.”
The FBG Board worked very hard over the last year to establish relationships with their representatives and educate these policy makers on the impact Florida breweries have in their districts. Though the Florida brewers now have many champions in the capitol, and the craft beer enthusiasts in the state are clearly influential, Florida law is quite obviously dominated by the wholesalers.
The FBG has recently established a PAC and has started to have fundraisers for policy makers. Josh insists “Money is the mothers milk of politics.” The FBG is contributing to candidates, however, it can’t touch the $1 million dollars in donations ABI distributors and their lobbyist, Mitch Rubin, have contributed to candidates and political committees over the years.
Growler legislation introduced this session, HB 283, has once again brought about a very heated public battle in the state, the result is yet to be determined. Once again the FBG has put out the request for their enthusiast support and hopefully these calls to action will have a powerful effect on policy makers’ decisions. While local Representatives recognize the importance of small brewery businesses in Florida, it’s also of grave importance they comprehend the threat of an additional bill, HB 1329 (sponsored by Ray Rodriguez), which would be tremendously harmful to Florida breweries.
Aside from the massive battles the FBG continues to fight, they are also working on holding more fundraising events and hosting more educational opportunities for the professional (or soon to be) brewers in the state. Last year, an Avery Brewing Co. representative offered a QA/QC session that was immensely beneficial to the brewers, which they hope to replicate in 2014. They guild is also working on building the FBG brand alongside the Florida Agriculture Commissioner’s “Made in Florida” campaign. Of note, the FBG has one of the most unique websites, and encourage you to check it out.
The FBG for the better part of two decades has been fostering the growth of craft beer in the state. Indeed, Florida is one of the rising stars in the United States of Craft Beer, a hot bed of innovation and growth in brewing. I am confident they will eventually overcome these potentially harmful regulations. Follow the FBG’s legislative fight and learn how you can help by visiting their Facebook page.