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No growlers allowed in Florida

Arcane state law will allow you to buy a container of two pints or a gallon, but not a standard 64-ounce growler

Photo: Photo by Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Have you ever noticed that you can't get a regular growler of beer at your favorite brewpub in Florida? I was reminded of this fact during a visit to Cigar City Brewing Company's tasting room in Tampa a few weeks ago. The brewery's CEO, Joey Redner, detests the fact that Florida's arcane alcohol-container laws won't allow him to sell traditional-sized growlers – sealable glass jugs, usually sold in 64-ounce sizes, that keep beer fresh until opened. He's taped a big, honking sign behind the growler-filling station reminding visitors of this aggravating fact. "We sell growlers in two sizes: 32 oz. and 128 oz.," it reads. "The industry standard in most states is the 64 oz. (1/2 gallon) growler, but Florida has a wacky, nonsensical law that prohibits us from selling them. Ridiculous, isn't it?"

There's another posted below the draft list, in case you missed the first one. And Redner wrote a 2009 editorial for the Tampa Bay Times called "America's dumbest beer laws (yep, Florida makes the list)," in which he crowns our state's regulations the dumbest in the nation. You can also watch Cigar City's 30-second clip on YouTube, "Growlers in Florida," in which Cigar City vice president Justin Clark asks viewers to support legislation that'll be introduced in Tallahassee this session that proposes to change the state's restrictions on selling 64-ounce growlers of beer.

"Thirty-two ounces, or two pints, legal; 128 ounces, or eight pints, legal," Clark says in the video, holding up one huge jug and one very slim one. "The industry standard of 64 ounces, or four pints: illegal. Does this make any sense?"

The bottling law is one part of Florida law policing beer sales and distribution. According to the statutes, every brewery must distribute its product through a middleman, regardless of the brewery's size. The state has a so-called "three-tier" system for regulating alcoholic beverages, and it requires that people involved in the business of selling alcohol only be involved in one of the tiers – manufacture, distribution or vending. Brewpubs can sell beer, but not to go, nor can they sell it for retail purposes. Breweries can sell to distributors and cannot serve beer on site, except in special "tasting rooms" in the interest of "promoting tourism," and brewery tours must be offered on site to satisfy the legal criteria. And growlers – well, the state doesn't make it convenient for people to get them.

"We've had to turn down so many sales from people bringing half-gallon growlers to fill," says Sky Conley, co-owner of Hourglass Brewery. "I have to tell them, 'I'm sorry, I can't.'"

Conley and brewing partner Brett Mason opened Hourglass last September, cramming a five-fermenter brew system and 10-draft line into a cozy wood-and-brick building on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Longwood. It gave the suburban Orlando municipality its first local brewery, and Hourglass' small-batch, style-blending beers have garnered a devoted clientele. For the past six months, they've sold their quart-sized growlers of beer, and now they're thinking of offering state-approved gallon growlers as well.

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