Commentary: Craft Beer — It’s Good For Florida

Tampa is home to one of the finest craft brewers in the state of Florida, indeed the nation–Joey Redner’s Cigar City Brewing. Mr. Redner has elevated the unique history of the Tampa Bay area through, of all things, great beer!  With brands such as Jai Alai, Florida Cracker White Ale, and Invasion Pale Ale, Cigar City takes pride in the Bay area, and in making good beer.  Redner’s originality and creativity is emblematic of the craft beer industry as a whole.  This is good for the beer industry and good for Florida.

Yet, currently, there is an important debate in Tallahassee related to breweries like Mr. Redner’s.  Some have even referred to this discussion as “beer wars” between big beer producers, local beer distributors, and small craft brewers like Cigar City.

The term “beer wars” is an unfortunate moniker because it fails to capture the complexity of a classic “good news-bad news” situation.  The good news is that there is plenty of room for growth in Florida’s craft beer market.  The bad news is that craft beer represents just 5 percent of total beer sales in Florida.

While craft brewers like Cigar City may boost a distributor’s revenue, individually they represent a small portion of total sales.  In this sense, Cigar City benefits from being sold and delivered alongside the distributors’ larger and more established domestic and imported beers, especially in Florida.

In other words, small brewers get broad access to the marketplace and enjoy the economies of scale created by distributors operating under Florida’s state-based form of alcohol regulation.

This relationship helps both brewers and distributors maximize revenue.  Craft brewers invest millions of dollars in brewing the best beer in the world, such as fermenters and bottling equipment, while distributors invest millions in delivery and sales people, trucks, and other infrastructure.  For this reason, an invisible story behind Cigar City’s success is another Tampa business:  J.J. Taylor Distributing.  As one of the state’s largest beer distributors, J.J. Taylor gets Cigar City to market in 17 counties in Florida, making the Tampa brewer one of J.J. Taylor’s largest and fastest selling craft brands.

Craft brewers and distributors enjoy a positive, mutually beneficial partnership and our differences in Tallahassee are not insurmountable.  Indeed, our biggest challenge is not related to commercial competition at all.  Rather, it is the preservation of Florida’s orderly alcohol marketplace.

In crafting Florida’s alcohol beverage laws we must not run afoul of the United States Constitution by favoring, intentionally or unintentionally, in-state brewers over out-of-state brewers.  This is an invitation to have Florida law decided on the federal bench as it was with wine in Granholm v. Heald.  For those of us who believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that states like Florida should jealously guard the right to make their own laws, this is the worst possible outcome of the so-called “beer wars.”

Strategic partnerships like the one between Cigar City and J.J. Taylor represent the best the industry has to offer: choice, quality, and public safety.  With double-digit annual growth in craft beer sales, abundant opportunity exists for those who are willing to work together in good faith, both in the marketplace and the legislature.  The only thing we can do to screw up this situation is to put it in the hands of the federal government.

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