Florida’s craft beer scene has evolved tremendously over the past decade. Breweries like Funky Buddha and Cigar City laid the foundations for beer in the state for a while.
But over the past five years or so, a new generation of craft breweries emerged. Today, people nationwide recognize names like J. Wakefield, Angry Chair, and Cycle Brewing. And even more recently, breweries like Unseen Creatures, 3 Sons, Odd Breed, Tripping Animals, and Prison Pals have made Florida a hype craft beer destination.
But despite making some of the best beers in the country, breweries in Florida continue to face complex business challenges.
For instance, Florida has yet to legalize self-distribution. This is precisely why the Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) is fighting for Freedom for Beer, “an initiative to bring change to Florida’s antiquated beer laws that restrict growth and keep craft breweries under the thumb of the big distribution houses,” says Florida Brewers Guild Executive Director Sean Nordquist.
Along with self-distribution, the FBG is trying to address franchise reform, brand registration, and licensing fees. “The movement is really to bring education and awareness to these issues in a way that the casual consumer can understand and participate,” says Nordquist.
Having an organization speaking on your behalf and fighting daily to make it easier for a brewery to conduct business in its hometown is one of the many countless benefits of joining your guild.
For Nordquist and the FBG, paving the way for craft breweries in the state is all he thinks about each and every day.
(Above photography courtesy of @mastrysbrewingco)
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What Is the Mission of the Florida Brewers Guild?
According to Nordquist, the FBG’s mission is “to educate the public about the brewing industry in Florida; promote networking and educational opportunities between brewers, consumers, suppliers, and government regulatory agencies; and continually promote free market access of the Florida brewing industry to the public.”
First and foremost, the FBG wants folks to know that breweries in Florida understand what’s popular, earning national attention for hazy IPAs, robust stouts, fruited sours, and more.
Ones like 3 Sons Brewing Company, 7venth Sun Brewing Company, Cigar City, Fort Myers Brewing Company, Green Bench Brewing Company, Magnanimous Brewing, Odd Breed Wild Ales, Prison Pals Brewing, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Tripping Animals, Unbranded Brewing Company, Woven Water, and so many more.
All told, 271 breweries and breweries-in-planning make up the entire state guild, with another 118 or so considered allied trade or retail members.
But beyond the beer, the FBG has made a mission to repeal some of the old-fashioned distribution and franchise reform laws that still plague the state.
What Are the Goals of the Florida Brewers Guild in 2023?
While Nordquist says the guild was excited about the possibility of self-distro and franchise reform, it doesn’t look like those will happen this year.
“We knew this would be a multi-year fight because there has been a lot of resistance,” says Nordquist. “But this isn’t the first year we felt we made significant progress.”
For instance, Nordquist says lobbyists have committed to sitting down and talking about self-distribution, which they haven’t been open to before. “They are seeing the writing on the wall with thirty-nine other states that have some form of self-distribution, and we have none,” says Nordquist.
While the fight for self-distro and franchise reform continues for the FBG, the organization made huge, tangible strides in brand registration laws this year.
As written, the current brand registration law states that when you have a brand—a new beer—you must register it with the state ($35 every time). “If you have an IPA, you register it; if you have a stout or a pale ale, those all get registered with the state every time,” says Nordquist. “But for a long time, it was understood that only applied to beers in distribution.”
If you had six beers in distribution, a brewery paid $35 six times yearly. According to Nordquist, some enforcement agents started to interpret the law to mean any beer a brewery made different from the one before had to be registered. “So you [brewed] an IPA and then did one with mango or habanero…it’s the same beer, but you added a different treatment,” says Nordquist. “Every time you do that, a beer has to be registered.”
Same with a one-off batch you only released in the taproom. Some enforcement agents interpreted the law to mean any beer made ever.
“A lot of [breweries] might do 100 different beers in a year with all these variations,” says Nordquist. “While that might not be a big deal to larger breweries, for the smaller ones doing 500-1,000 bbls a year, $3,500 is a lot of money…and now they can’t afford to…play around.”
Complicating things further, without hard and fast language in the brand registration law, different agents act differently. “You’d get different answers from different people you’d ask,” says Nordquist. “In one part of the state, you wouldn’t have to do it, and in another part of the state, the agent says you have to [register] all these [beers].”
A couple of months ago, the FBG asked the state for clarification. Moving forward, all agents will only require breweries to register brands in distribution.
“It’s a big win in a skirmish in a battle in the larger war,” says Nordquist.
Furthermore, Nordquist is optimistic that the state will also lower the annual licensing fees for craft brewers.
Currently, every brewery in Florida has to pay a $3,000 licensing fee every year, no matter their size. “It doesn’t matter if you make 100 bbls or 100,000 bbls; you’re paying the same licensing fee,” says Nordquist. “$3,000 to Cigar City Brewing is just the cost of doing business, but $3,000 to the guy on the corner [at a brewery] called I Brewed the World with a 5-bbl system brewing a couple of hundred barrels a year is a lot of money.”
Instead, Nordquist hopes the FBG can push through the idea for a tiered licensing fee system, “making sure that it’s more fair and equitable for everybody, so it’s more of a level playing field,” he says. “We stand to save Florida breweries millions of dollars, so that’s a big deal.”
While Nordquist mentions he hasn’t heard any outright opposition to this change, they still need to go through the somewhat laborious process of passing a bill.
What Are the Benefits for Florida Brewers Guild Members?
On a mission to reform current beverage laws in Florida, legislation tops the list of brewery benefits. “I think if you asked the breweries, everyone would have their own idea of what was ‘best,’ but certainly, our legislative advocacy is beneficial for all breweries,” says Nordquist. “But as a member, they get a direct voice and can participate in the discussions around what is important.”
In addition to a high concentration on legislative advocacy, the FBG also offers community-focused collaborations, networking, and educational opportunities.
“Our access to education, collaboration, and community is a big benefit to being a member, and the opportunity for discussion and partnership within the membership,” says Nordquist.
The guild also invites its members to festivals around the state and gives a discount for their annual conference.
Membership in the Florida Brewers Guild is $300-$1,500 a year* and includes all the following benefits:
- Right to pour beer at FBG festivals (Craft Beer Festival and Barrel-Aged, Sour, and Cider Festival)
- Right to vote on FBG issues (licensed breweries only)
- Invitation to the annual meeting
- Legislative representation and policy updates
- Access to member directory
- FBG website listing and link
- Commemorative member decal
- FBG metal tacker (brewery only)
- Proprietary use of FBG logo (brewery only)
- Subscription to monthly e-newsletter
- Access to brewers-only Discourse forum
- Invitations to exclusive, members-only Meet the Brewer regional socials
- Discounted tickets to special events and festivals
- First choice in sponsorship opportunities
*Dues based on annual production
The Two Can’t-Miss Florida Brewers Guild Events This Year
Beyond all these benefits, here are the significant events the Florida Brewers Guild has planned this year.
Florida Brewers Conference
The biggest industry-focused event of the year, the Florida Brewers Conference takes place every summer in Orlando.
With between 400-500 attendees, the conference provides the opportunity for breweries from around the state to connect, learn, and network. Each year, Nordquist finds excellent speakers to host educational workshops and panels.
Last year, for instance, Ashleigh Carter, co-founder and head brewer at Bierstadt Lagerhaus, joined the conference. And in previous years, The Boston Beer Company Founder Jim Koch and Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver have spoken.
“It’s very educational…and a great networking event,” says Nordquist. “A lot of the brewers like it because they can come and hang out without running a booth or serving beer in fest mode.”
Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival
The guild’s biggest event of the year, the Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival, features over 80 craft breweries and, on average, 2,000 people. Starting in the late ‘90s when the guild first formed, this festival is a “great way to show off all the different types of beer being made all around the state,” says Nordquist. “We have breweries from Pensacola down to Miami and everywhere in between.”