New Florida Law Makes Life a Little Easier for Craft Distillers and Their Customers

Here’s some good news Floridians can drink to.

Signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week, a new reform partially updates the Sunshine State’s Prohibition-era distilling laws.  HB 347 creates a separate category for distillers who distill 75,000 or fewer gallons per year.  Most importantly, it allows these microdistilleries to sell on-site, directly to consumers.

Before HB 347 was passed, microdistilleries would have to ship their products first to a wholesaler, before customers could buy their spirits.  This mandated system of producer to wholesaler to retail is known as three-tier distribution and is arguably unconstitutional.  But now, consumers can bypass these middlemen, making it easier to buy and savor vodka made from Florida cane sugar or the award-winning Wicked Dolphin Artisan Rum.

Philip McDaniel, the chairman of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild praised the bill as a way to better satisfy consumers and tourists:

“For us, the most exciting part of this is that we can now complete the customer experience.  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.”

Since it’s now easier for the state’s 15 small-scale distillers to sell their spirits, McDaniel predicts their numbers could double or even triple over the next decade.

Liberating liquor seems to be pretty popular with legislators: HB 347 passed the statehouse 111-4, while it sailed through the state senate unanimously.  Yet even though it had overwhelming support on the legislature floor, the bill’s fate was once on the rocks.

An earlier version allowed consumers to buy as many as 24 bottles a year from a distiller.  But this triggered enormous opposition from wholesalers and retailers.  Unsurprisingly, they weren’t exactly fans of more competitors selling alcohol.  So a subcommittee nearly killed the bill, until a compromise was reached, limiting consumers to only two bottles from a microdistillery a year.     In addition, Florida microdistilleries will still be unable to ship directly to customers, unlike wineries.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only buzzkill.  Craft distillers will have to fork over $4,000 each year in license fees.  By comparison, Oregon, which has a booming microdistillery scene, only charges spirit makers $100 a year for a license.  Earlier this year, the Florida legislature killed a bill that would legalize 64-ounce growlers to store beer.  In Florida, 32 and 128-ounce growlers are legal, but not the industry-standard of 64-ounces.   Let’s hope future legislators can get some (liquid) courage to truly liberate liquor.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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