A Little More Perspective…
Dear Mr. Halker,
I read the blog you posted on your website and would like the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA) and myself.
I appreciate your concerns and the concerns of so many small, local brewers throughout Florida. To that end, please know that we are not your adversaries. When small brewers grow and succeed, so do my members or their competitors in the distributor tier. Every day in every community across Florida, my members and many Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) members share a passion for bringing high quality, fresh beer to consumers. And every day, they work side-by-side to deliver an amazing variety of malt beverages to consumers. Distributors print the signs, purchase the point of sale material, cooperate in marketing and advertising, clean draft lines, refrigerate local craft to lower temperatures, conduct tastings, support craft festivals and so much more. Distributors have invested hundreds of millions in warehouses, vehicles, software and personnel to serve their supplier and retail partners.
Growlers. We agree with you. It is time to put the growler issue to rest. We support Senator Latvala’s effort via SB 186 and endorse its passage. With basic sealing and labeling requirements – modest accommodations – passing this into law should be a relatively easy undertaking. We believe that these containers should be properly sealed, if for no other reason than for law enforcement purposes (think open container laws). Secondly, we believe that alcohol by content (ABV) should be on the labels so that consumers can be made aware of the potency of the beverage. As craft brewers know better than anyone, the difference in ABV between a Session IPA and an Imperial IPA is substantial.
Administrative Action. For years, the Division has been issuing retail licenses to brewers under the so-called “tourism exception.” As you know, the clear language of the statute says that in order for a brewer to qualify for such a license, that brewer must have “other structures” supporting the brewery and the tourism industry of the state. As I read the retailers’ administrative action, it simply asks the division to clarify – via rule – what it is that constitutes “other structures.” Last year we were told that brewers do not need a change to the law to allow them to hold retail licenses. Yet now, somehow, retailers seeking clarity of that very same law will bring an end to the privilege to hold retail licenses. Retailers, and everyone who must abide by Florida’s three-tier system, have a legitimate interest in knowing exactly what the rules are.
It is not our intention to shut down tasting rooms. In fact, we support every brewery’s right to have a tasting room and to sell growlers of beer brewed on the premises. We also support retail privileges at small breweries. We do not believe that the administrative action would impact existing licenses.
That said, the retail associations are in the process of withdrawing the administrative action because the Division has agreed to proceed to rulemaking. We would like to work together in rulemaking and in the legislature.
“We have tried discussions with these people.” And so have we with the FBG. In fact, we had a meeting scheduled to do just that – sit and meet to discuss our differences. That meeting, as you may recall, was cancelled at the last minute by your team and with neither explanation nor an attempt to reschedule. Our differences are not irreconcilable. If our respective members can find ways to work well together day in and day out, then so can we. It begins with a willingness to come together, and a desire to sit down, face-to-face, to try and work out those differences. We would love that opportunity.
Three-Tier System. Our concerns are real and they should be of concern to all small brewers and retailers too. Ultimately, a healthy distributor tier is important for efficient distribution to retail. When the playing field in each tier or between tiers gets out of balance, the disorder in the market might ultimately lead to distributors and retailers competing with brewers.
Conclusion. I would hope that the FBWA and FBG can begin working together in a spirit of accomplishment and moving forward. You are right in saying that these fights only divert us from our collective purposes, but you are mistaken when you say there is no common ground. I would kindly ask that you refrain from personal slights claiming that those who disagree with you have no legitimate interest or are concocting disagreements merely for personal gain. The interests of my members are indeed legitimate as are your concerns and the concerns of your members. Neither of us is served when this discussion devolves into name-calling or inaccurately questioning someone else’s motives.
I agree with you that Floridians are welcoming the growth of craft beer and consumers are indeed speaking with their wallets. The explosive growth in locally owned breweries is a testament to your members. The partnership between local brewers and local distributors is proof that we have a pretty good system and one that fosters a spirit of competition. I hope we can work together to improve upon this system without tearing apart those things that make it work for craft brewers, distributors, retailers and the public.
Thank you for allowing me to respond.
Florida Beer Wholesalers Association