Much of the recent news surrounding craft beer may not make sense to the general public. We in the industry have trouble wrapping our heads around some of the laws (and proposed laws) that do nothing more than stifle an explosive, economically impactful, and culturally important industry.
With one of the highest excise tax rates in the country, restrictions on the size of growlers, and a 3-tiered system that makes it difficult for small brewers to find space in the market, it’s hard to believe that the industry has even taken off the way it has in recent years. And now, we find ourselves in yet another battle that could prevent new breweries from utilizing tasting rooms.
Our 3-tier system is split between manufacturers (breweries), distributors, and retailers. Historically, manufacturers were not allowed to offer their products for consumption until 1984 when the state made a tourism exception to the law that allowed Anheuser-Busch to sell beer at its microbrewery in Busch Gardens. The tourism exception is what has allowed breweries to sell their product in their tasting rooms. This week the Florida Independent Spirits Association, which represents independent retailers like ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and Knightly Spirits in Orlando, brought a lawsuit to the state of Florida which argues that the state has no way of knowing if the tasting rooms are promoting tourism. This comes right when the American craft beer scene has hit its stride, providing solid competition for the major international brands that the group represents. Their speculation couldn’t be any more wrong.
The Growth of Craft Beer in Florida
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the craft beer industry has done quite well despite all the challenges. In 2007 there were only 6 craft breweries in Florida, today there are over 100. All of these breweries can employ anywhere between 5 and 65 employees. Even with these impressive growth numbers, our breweries per-capita rate is far less than other states leading the charge like Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon. A 2013 study by the University of Florida estimated that our population could support 550 breweries based on the number in those states. We have come a long way, but we still have a huge growth potential.
Creating a Craft Beer Destination
With our relatively modest growth, we have still undoubtedly put Florida craft beer on the map. Tampa was ranked as the #5 beer city in the country in 2014 by the national lifestyle website Livability. 3 years earlier we didn’t even make that same list. Each March, thousands of people travel to Tampa from all across the country for Tampa Bay Beer Week to take part in more than 250 local beer events. With open and fair regulation, the Florida craft beer scene will continue to bring in revenues and inspire home brewers and the like to become entrepreneurs and turn Florida into the ultimate craft beer destination.
Tasting Rooms are a Lifeline for Craft Beer Start-Ups
Put yourself in the shoes of a small craft brewery. With only a few employees and limited recourses, large-scale production and distribution is pretty much out of the question. Craft breweries across the country start the same way; by opening tasting rooms, selling growlers, and working to build their brand. You can often find brewery owners pouring beers in tasting rooms themselves, sharing their passion with friends new and old. Eventually they can make enough money to scale their business to allow bottling and distribution through major distributors and local retailers like Publix or ABC Fine Wines & Liquor. Without the tasting room, it’s unlikely that you would be able to find many of the brands in those stores that you can today.
It’s More Than Beer
Take away the tasting room and you not only create a barrier for new breweries to enter the market, you negatively impact an important culture who’s love for local craft beer is intertwined with their love for Florida. Tasting rooms have allowed countless food trucks to get their start by lining up outside breweries. Local restaurants pride themselves on their selection of local beer. Last year alone The Brew Bus welcomed aboard over 5,000 locals and tourists alike for tours to our local tasting rooms. We have seen first hand how a group of strangers can come together to share laughs, live music, and good beer. That is something everybody in the local craft beer community is willing to stand up for.