Craft beer brewers go head to head with beer distributors
Growler Law a Groaner for Some
For micro-brewers, Florida restrictions on container sizes that can’t be sold are overdue for change.
Takeout beer has been a staple in American bars since the 1800s, when patrons carried fresh beer home in small, galvanized pails.
Yesterday’s “bucket” now generally is called a “growler” and is made of glass, plastic or aluminum. Growlers come in many sizes, most commonly 32-ounce, 64-ounce and 128-ounce with the 64-ounce containers the most popular among craft beer fanciers, says Mike Halker, owner of Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach. The 64-ouncers are, he says, “exactly the right size growler for two or three people to sit down and drink.”
Florida law, however, forbids the sale of any bottle of beer, including growlers, that are larger than 32 ounces and smaller than a gallon (128 ounces). For example, customers who visit Due South Brewing can take home a 32-ounce growler of the craft brewer’s Caramel Cream Ale, Coastalicious Apricot Pale Ale or other selections for $7. For $23, they can get a 128-ounce growler. But when it comes to a 64-ounce growler, the industry standard in most states, Florida patrons are out of luck.
The restriction is rooted in a 1965 law that limits malt beverage containers to 8, 12, 16 and 32 ounces. The commonly told story is that the move was seen as retaliation against Miller Brewing for locating a brewery in Georgia instead of Florida that manufactured 7-ounce “pony” bottles that were popular at the time. The Legislature eased those restrictions in 2001 but still prohibited the sale of beer containers larger than 32 ounces, unless they are gallon size.
The restriction on 64-ounce growlers makes no sense to small brewers like Halker, who opened Due South Brewing in 2012 and serves as president of the Florida Brewers Guild. He and other craft brewers are pushing to legalize 64-ounce growlers, which are permitted in 47 other states. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” he says. “We can sell two 32-ounce containers of beer to the same person, but if I take all of that beer and put it into one container, I’m not allowed to sell that.”
Mitch Rubin, a lobbyist and executive director for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, says breweries are operating in a “gray zone” of the law and asserts that there’s “really no basis in law for selling a growler of any size in the first place.” Florida beverage law, he says, is built around two premises — on-premises consumption in a bar or restaurant or the retail sale of a packaged or sealed container. “Now you have this inbetween thing. Is it a sealed container? It didn’t come from the manufacturer sealed and also it’s not really an open container because someone’s sealing it, so what is this thing?”
That said, Rubin says the beer distributors he represents aren’t necessarily opposed to 64-ounce growlers but would like the law to clarify requirements for labels and proper seals “so law enforcement can tell when the seal has been broken — like a bottle of mouthwash or aspirin.”
A related issue is whether retail establishments ought to be able to sell growlers. ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, which operates nearly 150 stores in Florida, recently added growler stations that it calls “brew stops” in stores in Tampa, Lake Mary and Jacksonville. The retailer plans to open another station later this month in a Lakeland store as well as in a new store being built in Winter Park. Spokeswoman Lorena Streeter says the company favors having the 64-ounce growler available.
“The 64-ounce size seems to be very popular with craft beer aficionados,” she says. “That’s what they are in the market for.”