Florida breweries could soon have an easier path to sell their beer if a recently-filed bill makes it through the state legislature.
St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes’ bill would allow microbreweries to sell their products directly to local vendors. The current law, which Brandes said dates back to the prohibition era, states that all breweries and distilleries must first sell alcoholic beverages to a third-party distributor.
The distributor then sells the alcohol to restaurants, bars and other retail outlets. Brandes said the inefficient system puts an undue burden on small breweries.
“If I want to bring a keg of beer to a restaurant across the street, I have to put it on a truck and send it to Tampa,” said Brandes. “And then have it shipped back to the restaurant.”
Brandes said the process is not only inefficient for the brewery and restaurant, but it is also detrimental to the environment. He called the law antiquated and said that with the preponderance of microbreweries now dotting the region, it is time to make a change.
“Microbreweries largely sell locally,” said Brandes. “Most of their customers are within a few miles of their location.”
The bill would only allow these small breweries to distribute their products to vendors in the same county or adjacent counties. For example, microbreweries in Pinellas could only distribute to Pasco, Hillsborough or Manatee Counties.
Brandes said the prohibition-era law created a three-tiered system in the state, which he believes large brewers need. However, he said microbreweries could easily handle local transportation and sales independently. Brandes added that changing the law would also have a positive effect on jobs and local economies.
The proposed bill would only apply to businesses that fall under the definition of a microbrewery. The bill defines a microbrewery as an independently owned brewery that produces under 10,000 kegs a year at a single location.
Brandes said the bill would not negatively impact major distributors and could potentially help their business.
“This is such a small portion of their business,” explained Brandes. “In fact, it’s going to allow them to focus on the broader markets outside of the local region of the local brewery.”
While Brandes thinks the bill could save microbreweries money, he said that if the distributors provide enough value, the small brewers can choose to stay in the three-tiered system. He believes some will choose to stay with a distributor, although they would now have a choice.
Brandes has a small ownership stake in the Green Bench Brewing Company in St. Petersburg. He said he proposed the bill because of his involvement in that industry.
“I discovered what a challenge it is to sell to local restaurants in our own backyard,” he said. “Legislators bring in their life experiences – that’s part of the value we add.”
He explained the state legislature features hospital executives that chair the committee on appropriations for healthcare, and those life experiences aid in their decision-making processes.
“As long as legislators are disclosing this – I’m open, telling people I have an interest in Green Bench, I have for almost a decade now,” said Brandes. “But it’s not a significant investment for me.
“If I make an extra 50 bucks off of this, I would be surprised.”
Brandes acknowledged it would be difficult for the bill to pass in the upcoming legislative session. He said addressing a three-tiered system is always a challenging endeavor. However, this is Brandes’ last year as senator, and he said he is putting his best ideas on the table in the industries and areas where he has some expertise.
“Distributors basically have monopolies on certain areas,” said Brandes. “You’re trying to bust up the local monopolies, and that’s always a difficult thing … ”
The next legislative session begins Jan. 11.