Florida Governor Rick Scott has signed into law two bills that redefine business for state alcohol manufacturers and distributors. HB 347/SB 642 and HB 45 /SB 372 set a precedent for the alcohol industry that has not been seen in the state since the days of prohibition. GrayRobinson government relations attorney Jason Unger and alcohol industry attorney Richard Blau represented the Florida Craft Distillers Guild and restaurant distributors in amending outdated legislation.
“There are several sets of interests that have to be taken into account when drafting alcohol legislation, which makes it one of the trickiest industries to represent from a legal perspective,” said Blau, the chair of GrayRobinson’s national alcohol beverage and food law practice. “You have stakeholders with concerns in the public safety and health and wellness sectors, while also having to consider implications at a political and economic level. The fact that this bill was able to pass in its first session, with little to no opposition on the voting floor, is truly extraordinary.”
“This not only provides quicker access to beverage supply, but also to fresh food and other necessary supplies sold at distributors and wholesalers.”
“From a legislative standpoint, we were able to work with key legislators and leaders in the alcohol industry to pass a bill that everyone could support,” said Unger, the lead lobbyist on the effort out of GrayRobinson’s Tallahassee office.
In recent years the state has seen a growing number of craft distilleries that invite the public to tour their facilities and sample their product. However, unlike wineries and breweries, Florida law prohibited these distilleries from selling manufactured products on site. The product would have to be shipped off to a wholesaler or distributor for purchase. With the passage of HB 347/SB 642, championed by Representative Ronald Renuart and Senator Alan Hays, these distilleries can now sell products as part of this offering.
Philip McDaniel, chairman of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild and owner of the St. Augustine Distillery currently under construction in St. Augustine, Fla., predicts that the number of distilleries across the state could grow from 15 to anywhere between 35 and 50 over the next decade as a direct result of this new legislation.
“For us, the most exciting part of this is that we can now complete the customer experience,” said McDaniel. “When customers tour our distilleries they build up anticipation to try the product and want to take home a memory of the experience. When we’d have to say ‘I’m sorry, we can’t sell you a bottle’ at the very moment they’re eager to purchase, well, it just creates a negative customer experience."
McDaniel has plans for the future of St. Augustine Distillery now that the law will take effect July 1. In addition to a gift shop that sells bottles of the artisan crafted bourbon, gin, vodka and rum, there will be a small screening room that shows a documentary about the distiller’s relationship with local farms. The distillery is located just off of the trolley route located in the heart of St. Augustine’s historical tourist district and McDaniel is hopeful that a vast majority of these patrons will enter his doors.
“Florida has some of the best agriculture in the world, especially when used as a value added component for alcohol manufacturing. We have one of the largest sugar cane crops in the nation and a variety of fresh fruits to flavor our liquors, wines and beers,” said McDaniel. “This legislation will allow Florida distillers to capitalize on our unique location and build a global reputation bringing new visitors to the state because, quite simply, they can’t find this experience anywhere else.”
JoAnn Elardo, owner of Cape Spirits in Cape Coral, Fla., can finally hire the help she needs to offer tours due to the added revenue the distillery will bring in from alcohol sales. Cape Spirits manufactures Wicked Dolphin Rum.
“Before we were just a name on a shelf,” said Elardo. “Now we have marketing capability. We can make our distillery a destination and put our stamp on our product.”
The second bill that passed this session, HB 45 /SB 372 sponsored by Representative Ed Hooper and Senator Jack Latvala, addresses laws established to limit the transportation of alcohol in motor vehicles – even for business operations. Previously, if a restaurant or bar ran out of alcohol and was in need of a quick replacement supply, the employee sent to purchase the alcohol would have to use a company-licensed vehicle. The new legislation eliminates this requirement providing employees the ability to transport alcoholic beverages in their own personal vehicles and allows distributors to operate more efficiently.
“The new law is incredibly beneficial to the restaurant industry, particularly to smaller Florida restaurants with small staffs, because it allows these businesses to better serve their customers’ needs with more efficient operations,” said Richard Turner, vice president and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA). “This not only provides quicker access to beverage supply, but also to fresh food and other necessary supplies sold at distributors and wholesalers.”
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