Florida's craft beer laws could use a reboot

In the 2.5 years since we launched the "Around The Brew Bend" craft beer column in the Tallahassee Democrat, the TLH Beer Society has never had a guest columnist. But that all changes today. Meet Pete Anderson, co-owner of Pareidolia Brewing Company in Sebastian, Florida, which opened in 2014. TLH Beer Society ceded our space to him this week to take a closer look at Florida's alcohol laws and how certain tweaks could both level the playing field and help save Florida's struggling craft beer scene during the coronavirus pandemic. - Danny Aller 


Do I have your attention?

Few people realize that behind this simple word "beer" lies a labyrinth of regulations soPete and Lynn Anderson of Pareidolia Brewing Co. tricky to navigate that it seemingly requires two Ph.Ds to decipher them. How did a simple product, with a complicated history, find itself on the brink of collapse in Florida? Why is the future of one of Florida's fastest-growing industries tied to antiquated laws of the 1930s?

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and the United States' ban on alcohol — ending Prohibition. 

Repeal set into motion states individually creating laws regarding how the reintroduction of alcohol would be sold. Not long after — yes, we're still talking 1933 — Florida built the now infamous "3 Tier System" into its alcohol laws. In essence, the system allowed one to either A) Brew the beer, B) Sell the beer, or C) Distribute it. However, there was one catch: You weren't allowed to do all three. 

Pay close attention here because this is the crux of Florida's current dire situation for craft breweries. Since 1933, more than 30 states have amended their laws to be more equitable for all 3 Tiers by allowing for "self-distribution," meaning breweries can sell their beer directly to retailers. In states with updated laws, breweries are permitted to sell at least some of their beer — within a short radius of the brewery's location — directly to bars, restaurants or liquor stores without the need for a distributor.

Florida, however, is not among them. 

Currently, all beer sold by a brewery to a retailer must, by law, be sold through a distributor, regardless of how near (like across the street) or far away the retailer is. Furthermore, in those states with amended laws, breweries are permitted to sell at least some of their beer directly to bars, restaurants or liquor stores without the need for a distributor, which gets roughly a 30% discount on every keg we sell them — and that 30% comes right out of the brewery's pocket, no one else's.

Pete and  Lyn Anderson left their jobs as teachers in Oregon and opened Pareidolia Brewing Company, the first craft brewery in Sebastian, Florida, in 2014.

Let me give you two quick scenarios to illustrate why the current 3 Tier Systems is cumbersome.

Scenario 1: If a bar across the street from my brewery runs out of beer on a busy night, to get more beer, the bar owner can't call me and say, "Hey, Pete! We just blew a keg of your best IPA. It's Friday night, and we're slammed. I need another one fast! Can you bring a fresh keg over?"

I can't.

That bar owner must call the distributor and order more beer. And if the distributor has what's needed in their warehouse, it will be loaded on a truck (likely much further away than the brewery across the street) and be delivered — not that night, mind you — but on the distributor's schedule. To make matters more complicated, many distributors only deliver once or twice per week, so the bar owner will have to wait several days to get the beer they need now. 

Scenario 2: Let's say a bar owner needs beer, but the distributor doesn't have what they want in the warehouse. The distributor then has to send a truck to the brewery to pick up the requested beer for the bar (remember the brewery is literally across the street). Then that truck has to drive back to the warehouse (no matter how far away that is) and the beer must — again, by law — be unloaded into the warehouse (it's known as "docking the beer" and the part of the 3 Tier System called "come to rest."). 

Then that same beer has to be reloaded onto the truck to be delivered to the bar — a bar that sits across the street from the brewery that brewed the dang beer.

Here's another fun fact about the plight of breweries locked into distributors: Did you know that the 3 Tier System also stipulates that once a brewery signs a contract to distribute their beer, that contract is a lifetime contract? What other industry is like that? None, except ours. 

Self-distribution is one tool that might alleviate the inefficiencies, or downright insanity, protect my finished product, and keep the wheels of the hospitality industry greased. 

In 2019 alone, craft beer brought $3.6 billion to Florida, according to The Brewer's Association. That placed us 5th overall in the nation, and it's not hard to imagine what Florida — with updated laws — might be able to draw. Breweries could even offer deliveries directly to the retailers, perhaps even shipping or delivering our beer directly to consumers. After all, so many customers are following current recommendations to stay home, yet still want to support their local brewery. 

I'm not advocating eliminating the 3 Tier System, but more so appealing to the state of Florida for some help in joining the other states that have fostered the benefits and economic boon that craft beer brings. 

If you enjoy a good locally brewed pint, visit a site I launched, flbreweries4change.wixsite.com/selfdistroflnow, to write to your representatives and help us #SaveFloridaBeer. 

Let's work together to free (the) beer and give Florida's craft brewers a fighting chance to survive. Now, and in the future.

In 2014, Pete and Lynn Anderson left their jobs as teachers and opened Pareidolia Brewing Company — the first craft brewery in Sebastian, Florida, — after homebrewing as a hobby for over 20 years.

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