This blog was inspired by Mitch Rubin’s recent comments (proclaiming to support craft beer) that were reported in the Gainesville Sun. Mitch Rubin is the executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (this is the group that represents ABInBev and has generally done their bidding). Rubin, who has cited “public health concerns” in the past when asked about blocking growler bills, again noted the need to protect the three tier system.  As we discussed previously, the three tier system isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  Plus, with groups like the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association doing what Anheuser Busch’s money tells them to do, does the three tier system really operate as it is meant to or the way that Mitch Rubin claims it needs to? The largest manufacturer is influencing the political process via one of those tiers that Rubin claims must be kept separate (the distributors).

He has noted that the focus in the three tier system “tends to be on [the distributor], which is intentional, to separate the retailer from the brewer, so that the brewer cannot dominate the retailer.” Rubin has been a master of saying things and implying things that lack context. One might assume that the result of a brewery selling its beer directly to a bar or bottle shop would be chaos. He has added that without the three-tier system, society will learn that overpromotion and overconsumption result. Scared yet? Don’t be. Rubin fails to note that a majority of states in this country allow at least some form of limited self-distribution.

This has kind of been his thing. He was recently quoted in the Gainesville Sun expressing that “the public largely is unaware of” the three tier system and that it “is the system that Florida and most states employ in order to keep this kind of vertical integration from occurring.” Again, all states have some form of three tier system in place, but most have exceptions that allow for craft brewers to sell their beer (at least a portion of it) directly to retailers. It’s unnecessary to prey on a perceived lack of knowledge on a subject by providing an education in half-truths. Again, the idea appears to be to imply that protecting the three tier system would just be status quo and in line with regulations across the country. That’s not reality.

The state of Washington allows a licensed microbrewery to “also act as a distributor and/or retailer for beer and strong beer of its own production.”  A microbrewery in Washington is defined as one with “production of less than sixty thousand barrels of malt liquor, including strong beer, per year.”  Maryland allows a brewery that produces up to 22,500 barrels to distribute up to 3,000 barrels of its own beer annually. In Montana, a brewer who manufactures less than 60,000 barrels of beer a year can distribute up to 10,000 barrels a year of its own beer directly to retailers.  New Hampshire brewers that don’t manufacture more than 15,000 barrels per year can distribute up to 5,000 barrels per year directly to retailers. In Arizona, a brewery can self-distribute up to 3,000 barrels of its beer per year to retailers. Craft brewers in Illinois can self-distribute up to 7,500 barrels of beer to retail licensees each year. Brewers in Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Maine can also distribute their beer directly to retailers.  Not surprisingly, those states were the top four states in craft beer economic impact per capita (based on statistics released by the Brewers Association in December of 2013 for the year 2012).  Montana, mentioned above, was fifth in economic impact per capita.  What state ranked last? Florida. Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina followed Florida.  Each of those states is among the small portion that does not allow self-distribution. The craft beer industry could (and should) have a much greater economic impact on the State of Florida.

Late in 2013, Rep. Dana Young told the Associated Press that the idea for this legislative session would be to take baby steps by legalizing the 64 ounce growler.  In response, Rubin noted that he and his constituents “support 64-ounce containers, and we support tasting rooms” and added that the bill on growlers should also address standards for labels, sealing and sanitizing.  That is clearly not the case.  House Bill 283 represented the baby step.  It would allow growlers sold in any size and would also allow for tastings to be conducted by manufacturers and distributors.  That bill was temporarily deferred in the Regulatory Affairs Committee, as the other malt beverage bills have received a long list of amendments that would affect the regulation of growlers and the originals filed (essentially) by Rubin would also affect growler regulation. Had they supported what they claim to support, a simple growler bill would roll through the legislature rather than being burdened by the filing of other bills that would significantly limit the industry and its members.

Bringing up public health as a concern in the growler debate when Rubin has referred to the growler size limit as arbitrary (and we all know that you can take home much more than 32 ounces of beer in growlers at any given time) is intellectually dishonest.  Bringing up the word “prohibition” in the growler debate as though correcting an illogical regulation will result in the things that originally led to prohibition is similarly intellectually dishonest.  Any actual debate about growler size should be completely unnecessary.  And, as we have discussed earlier, the three tier system isn’t going to collapse simply because breweries can have a vendor’s license to sell beer on the brewery premises (See reality: breweries have vendors licenses and the three tier system has not collapsed, cities have not burned down).  It is his job to present things in a light most favorable to those who pay him, but using fear and semi-truths seems unnecessary.