Craft beer brewers say legislation would crush their businesses - FOX 13 News

Craft beer brewers say legislation would crush their businesses

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Tom Williams is a numbers guy. He's invested $750,000 in his brewery, and in two weeks since he opened St. Pete Brewing, he's hired 11 people.

Profits and jobs depend on selling draft beer at the bar and by the bottle everywhere else.

"I moved to St. Petersburg and Florida specifically to not deal with things that come out of the woodwork from Uncle Sam," Williams said.

But a state senate committee voted to require most craft brewers to funnel bottled beer through a distributor, even if it never leaves their building.

That would mean a 30 percent markup to sell their own beer.

"A Harvard MBA, no one ever could build that into it," Williams said.

Republican bill sponsor Kelli Stargel of Lakeland says it's crucial to bring the growing craft industry under the state's three-tiered system.

Production, distribution and retail all have to be separate.

"If we allow a small brewer to sell cans and bottles out the door, wholesale, I could pull up to Anheuser Busch with my box truck and load up for my entire dorm. I don't think that's what we want in the state of Florida," Stargel said.

Brewers are also furious at a new requirement that demands production and retail be done in the same place.

Tampa Bay Brewing is planning a new tap room, miles from their restaurant in Ybor City.

"I've been working on this for five years."

The 65 job and $5 million dollar project could be dead if they can't bring beer from one place to another.

"If this bill were to pass, the American Dream is being crushed," said David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing.

Craft brewers point to campaign donations Senate President Don Gaetz and sponsor Kelli Stargel have gotten from distributors of big beer as reason for the revamp of craft beer sales in Florida.

She didn't refute a Tampa Bay Times article that said she's gotten $6,000 from distributors.

"Look at every member of the Florida senate. I would challenge that they have received more in campaign contributions than I have," Stargel said.

Senate President Don Gaetz' office says the bill is not a priority for him, though it could be brought the floor at any time for a full vote.

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