Aug 28, 2014, 7:24am EDT UPDATED: Aug 28, 2014, 4:35pm EDT by Chris Wilkerson
After a long summer spent drinking craft beers with brewers and making phone calls to his friends in the distributing business, Pepin Distributing CEO Tom Pepin said he is confident they can present a bill to lawmakers this winter that will legalize Florida’s long-elusive 64-oz. growler.
“I am personally going to endorse a 64-oz. growler bill with no attachments,” Pepin said on Wednesday night at a beer release party for Ybor’s new Coppertail Brewing Co. at the Stein and Vine in Brandon.
“We all agree that a growler is a sampling instrument that should be legal.”
Pepin tried to intervene at the end of the 2014 legislative session when the craft brewers, who wanted only to legalize the 64-oz. take-out bottle, and lawmakers could not come to terms on a bill that developed several attachments intended to regulate the industry. He was too late. The bill died at the end of the session with attachments many craft brewers thought were unfair and regular beer drinkers could not understand.
Florida’s craft beer industry has been in growth mode the past several years, led by Joey Redner’s nationally known Cigar City Brewing. That growth happened in part because of a tasting room concept that is not unique to Florida, but which happens here despite the current laws that stunt its growth. Florida’s laws promote a three-tier system of brewers, distributors and retailers and attempts to keep them separate. Because a tasting room acts as a distributor, breweries offering that service have been operating in a loophole in the law that constricts their growth.
When the craft beer industry took a 64-oz growler legalization bill to Tallahassee for the past couple of sessions, it was loaded up with attachments that would regulate how much the brewers could sell from their breweries before they infringed upon the distributors’ territory and became a retailer.
“We don’t want to be distributors,” said Coppertail President and Founder Kent Bailey at the Wednesday night event. “It has been a fast-moving industry.” A growler helps brewers like Coppertail build a brand.
In early May, Pepin raised a glass with Redner at Cigar City’s Cypress Street headquarters on the last day of the legislative session and promised they would work out a deal this summer so that they all would not have to go through another ugly spell like 2014’s session.
“We want everybody to know that we are not enemies,” Pepin said at the time.
As summer draws to a close, Pepin thinks they can deliver a 64-oz. growler bill to Tallahassee that should pass with no attachments. He and Bailey agreed that the language needs to get written before the session starts.
“I am very confident,” he said. “We are trying to get something put together so that the legislature doesn’t have to draft a bill or write anything.”
From the distributor’s side, a legal 64-oz. growler would seem to be a threat to an outsider, but Pepin said the craft beer industry has reawakened the American beer drinker and is revitalizing the industry.
“Every generation or so, this industry needs something exciting like this to happen or it can get a little stale,” he said.