Lawmakers Launch New Brewing Liberty Caucus

Mar 13, 2015

The Brewing Liberty Caucus at Proof Brewing in Railroad Square.
Credit Nick Evans

This week state lawmakers let their hair down at a Tallahassee watering hole to inaugurate the Brewing Liberty Caucus.  The informal coalition is hoping to make lasting changes this session. 

It’s sunset at Railroad Square, a funky, commune-style park of old warehouses converted into new uses.  Among spaces re-purposed as workshops and galleries is Proof Brewing.  It’s one of the newest additions to the park. 

As the de facto Capital craft brewer, Proof is playing host to the new Brewing Liberty Caucus.  But don’t let the name fool you.  House Majority Leader Dana Young (R-Tampa), one of the organizers of the group, says it’s far from formal.

“I mean it says caucus but really it’s just a group of people that support craft beer, and support small businesses that are involved with the beer movement,” Young says.

In the past two sessions, Young sponsored or co-sponsored legislation allowing the 64 ounce growler.  She and her aide picked up t-shirts on the way in with a cartoon jug behind bars reading “Free the Growler.”  Young says now she’s part of leadership she can’t carry the bill—freshman Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) gets the honor this session—but she says this session is the time to pass growler legislation.

“Well the 64 ounce growler is the industry standard, it’s the national standard, any craft brewery you go to outside of Florida is going to have 64 ounce growlers,” Young says.

Rep. Victor Torres (D-Orlando) still has questions about some of the broader changes proposed to the state’s three tier system, but he agrees on the growler.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense,” Torres says. “It doesn’t really—32, 100 and what is it?  128?  Then you don’t have the 64?  I mean come on.”

But there’s more on the docket this session than just size restrictions.  Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) has proposed a bill that will also do away with the tourism exception—allowing brewers to set up tasting rooms where they make their beer. 

Byron Burroughs, co-owner of Proof, is hoping the event at his tasting room will help convince lawmakers to support Latvala’s ideas.

“I think this is fantastic,” Burroughs says.  “They can actually come out and see what we’re doing here, and see that it’s not a threat to the three tier system or society at large.”

Ben Davis, owner of Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, explains tasting rooms—like the one he has at his brewery and the one here at Proof—establish an important foundation for new brewers, but growth still happens by working with distributors and retailers.

“I mean, [to] give you an idea, our first year we did about 1,000 barrels, and half of those were sold in our tap room,” Davis says.  “But as you grow, I mean now we’re doing about 7,000, and still 500 is out of our tap room.”

The push to scrap the tourism exception comes after a number of distributors and retailers challenged it in an administrative court, asking for greater clarity in how state officials award licenses.  Critics were quick to question their motive—it’s an exception specifically given to manufacturers not distributors or retailers.  But Majority Leader Young is confident the Legislature will sort the issue out.

“Be careful what you wish for and what you sue for,” Young says, “because as lawmakers we’re perfectly capable of writing laws that are extremely clear.” 

“We will pass that this session,” she continues.  “If you sue the state of Florida because you are confused, we will take care of your confusion.  Perhaps maybe not the way you want us to, but we will handle that, and we are going to handle that.”

The House version hasn’t been amended to reflect Latvala’s changes in licensing, but both bills are moving forward steadily.  The Senate Commerce and Tourism committee has Latvala’s proposal on its schedule Monday.