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'Absurd' law limits beer containers, but repeal falls flat

Crave a 32-ounce big gulp of your favorite ale from the local microbrewery? Have at it.

How about a gallon jug brimming with 128 ounces of craft beer? You're welcome to it.

Just don't order your artisanal brew in a 64-ounce bottle. Florida lawmakers, in infinite wisdom seasoned over decades, have outlawed the sale of 64-ounce containers of beer at microbreweries authorized to sell beer to go.

"I don't know that I've ever heard of anything so ridiculous," said Mike Halker, owner of the Due South Brewing Co. in Boynton Beach, and president of the Florida Brewers Guild.

And it would seem that one Broward legislator agrees. State Rep. Katie Edwards wants to pull the plug on the law that allows breweries to sell beer in 32- and 128-ounce containers, called growlers, but not in the popular 64-ounce size. Reports from Tallahassee, however, say a bill by the Plantation Democrat to undo those restrictions has been buried, perhaps forever, in committee.

A bill similar to Edwards' is tied up in Senate committees.

South Florida brewers blame the expected death of the legislation on big beer companies seeking to quash competition. "Certain people who have a monopoly," Edwards told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "are being very disingenuous and greedy."

Independent breweries that offer specialty beer are a growing trend in South Florida and around the country. But Florida is one of only three states, Mississippi and Utah included, that ban 64-ounce growlers.

"It is absurd. You could sell a 32-ounce growler and a 128-ounce growler, but nothing in between," said John Linn, marketing representative for the Funky Buddha Brewery, scheduled for a May opening in Oakland Park. So beer lovers simply buy two 32-ounce containers of brew.

The restriction dates to Prohibition, when lawmakers relegated the alcohol industry to a three-tiered system of manufacturers, distributors and retailers to prevent monopolies. "They were basically saying you could sell small quantities or you could sell in bulk, which they said was 128 ounces," Halker said. "That's the number we're stuck with now."

Linn said repealing the "arcane law" would boost business for brewers. "We get more sales and it would benefit the consumer," he said. "There's a lot of consumer outrage over the fact this bill's been killed."

Linn said big beer companies and their lobbyists blocked Edwards' bill.

"We're cutting into their sales," he said. "What this comes down to is one group of powerful companies exerting their power to do anything they can to keep sales down, to keep growth down in the craft beer industry."

But Halker believes the House and Senate measures can be resurrected.

"We're kind of rallying the troops right now," he said. "It's a little funny that Florida is so far behind. We're trying to fix that."

Staff writer Maria Murriel contributed to this report. or 954-356-4525





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