Let the growlers growl


Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.

There's finally an issue that brings together folks of all political stripes, uniting us in common purpose to defeat injustice for the greater good.

I'm referring, of course, to the right to drink beer from large containers.

State law currently requires growlers, the name for resealable bottles filled with beer from the tap, to be 32 or 128 ounces. A bill filed in the Florida House, HB 715, would allow breweries to sell growlers in the industry's standard size of 64 ounces.

I'll admit, this might not seem like the most noble of causes. But the law is just one fight in a larger battle to change antiquated alcohol laws.

Growlers got their name from the pails used to carry draft beer home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pails made a growling sound as CO2 escaped the lid.

They went out of style when beer bottling became standardized, but growlers have made a comeback during the craft-beer movement of recent years. Today, independent brewers such as Gainesville's Swamp Head sell growlers.

But retail stores like Tipple's Brews can't do so here, for confusing reasons. It boils down to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco's misinterpretation of an 80-year-old anti-bootlegging law, according to local attorney Jeffrey Price, who represented Tipples on the issue.

This is made more absurd by the fact that some stores in other parts Florida do indeed sell growlers. It all depends on how the ABT's local office is interpreting the law, Price said.

He noted that Gov. Rick Scott's first directive was ordering state agencies to analyze job-killing regulations. Indeed, it seems like reducing regulations would be something the Republican-controlled Legislature would get behind.

But here's where the power of special interests comes into play. Florida is among the states that created a three-tiered system of alcohol distribution following Prohibition. Producers can only sell their products to distributors, who then sell to retailers.

Beer distributors want to protect a system that is lucrative for them and will clock arguments against growlers in health and safety concerns, according to Sarasota Herald-Tribune Tallahassee reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger.

Confession time: My dad, brother and other family members work for beer distributors. The business paid for most of my college education. But I'm rooting for the craft-beer movement on this issue. Not only should 64-ounce growlers be allowed at breweries, but beer stores should be able to sell them.

Gainesville has embraced craft beers in recent years, with multiple bars offering beer from independent breweries around the world. Retail stores should be able to get kegs of the stuff that isn't bottled and essentially do the bottling themselves.

And size shouldn't matter. As Price put it, "What's the difference between my Big Gulp and my Sawtooth beer?"

Well, there are a few differences, but the container size seems like a minor one. Let's get Tallahassee away from the tap and unleash growlers from silly regulations.

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