Craft beer distribution battle brews in Florida legislature

Thu Apr 3, 2014 5:11am EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Beer fans line up every winter at Intuition Ale Works in north Florida for the annual tapping of Underdark, a world-class dark brew aged for a year in bourbon barrels that sells out quickly even at $15 a bottle.

Ben Davis, who owns the four-year-old local craft brewery in Jacksonville, counts on Underdark's two-day spike in revenue to grow his small business.

But a bill pending in the Florida Senate that would cut into Underdark's profit has craft beer-makers crying foul.

The law would force craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor. If they want to sell it in their own tap rooms, they would then have to buy it back at what is typically a 30-40 percent mark-up without the bottles or cans ever leaving the brewery, according to Joshua Aubuchon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild.

The rule would not apply to draft beer.

"That to me looks like racketeering," Aubuchon told Reuters.

While other states nurture craft breweries, the smaller craft brewers say politically influential national distributors have drawn a line in the sand in Florida to slow the growing popularity of independents who offer an alternative to the standard American light lager fare.

U.S. craft brew sales grew 18 percent by volume in 2013, while overall beer sales dropped about 2 percent, according to the national Brewers Association, which defines craft breweries as those producing under 6 million barrels annually.   Continued...

Kristin Masson serves beers at Tequesta Brewing Co. in Tequesta, Florida April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Javier Galeano