Craft-brewing in Florida is big business getting bigger, but many within the community are unhappy about a certain size restriction. In Florida it's legal to fill large bottles known as growlers—just not in the industry-standard size of 64 ounces. But the craft brewing community is mobilizing again this year to get rid of the size regulation.
Mike and Bobby Carbonell are brothers and they run a little shop called Growler Country.
“Growler country is a growler filling station,” Bobby says. “We’re one of the first in the state and we offer craft beer from local and national craft breweries for here in pints, and to go in growlers.”
Behind the bar they’ve got 24 taps, and next to the register they’ve got their growlers lined up. When someone comes in, they can buy a new bottle and have it filled, or drop off their old one in exchange for a clean bottle—kind of like how it was when the milkman made house calls.
That kind of homey-feeling extends throughout the store. Really, it feels more like your buddy’s garage than a bar. It’s comfortable—not too loud, well lit.
But it is missing one thing.
“So in Florida we’re only allowed to fill anything up to 32 ounces or over one gallon,” Bobby says. “So we only—for our store, we only fill 32 ounce growlers or 128 ounce growlers, we can’t do anything in between.”
And while being denied the 64 ounce option isn’t destroying his business, Bobby does support removing the regulation.
“We’re doing OK with the 32 and 128,” he says, “but we’d like to see the change. We’d like to free the 64 ounce growler.”
And people have been trying to free it for years. Results have been mixed.
Earlier this year Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) proposed a bill that allowed growlers, but brought a whole host of other regulations along with it. Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) was highly critical of the bill.
“As a Republican, I’m supposed to be—we’re supposed to be as Republicans—about free enterprise about leaving the market alone,” Latvala said last April just after the bill passed the Senate. “Y’know, we just don’t practice what we preach.”
The bill died in the House shortly thereafter. In the coming session, Latvala is working on growler legislation, and to do so, he’s teaming up with newly elected Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater).
“If people want to buy the product,” Sprowls says, “which clearly they do—if people want to but a 64 ounce growler, then where is government going to come in here, and step in, and say well why do you need the 64? They want to purchase it. It is stifling business if you have a product, and people want to buy it and they’re unable to.”
Part of the problem with earlier attempts, Sprowls says, is the bills were too expansive.
“Our view is that this piece of legislation should be a standalone bill that affects the growler and only the growler,” Sprowls says.
And he has good reason. Critics of Stargel’s bill suggested lobbyists for major beer distributors—a group that has long opposed allowing growlers—were pushing for extra regulations to either sink the bill, or get special considerations. But now it appears that might not be an issue.
The Beer Industry of Florida, a lobbying group that represents distributors primarily focused on Miller-Coors products, have posted a video on their website saying, “we’re mobilizing an industry-wide coalition to make this new container size legal—no strings attached.”
If they do in fact stand down or even lobby in favor of growler legislation, then the big bottles could be coming to store near you soon. And Bobby Carbonell’s alright with that.
“I mean we just we love the craft beer industry, and we want to see it keep growing,” Bobby says. “If [the Legislature] can legalize the 64 ounce growler, and make the breweries more competitive, and help us do a little more business, that’d be great.”
But if past experience is any guide, there are still plenty twists and turns along the way.