Saturday, May 19, 2018
Business

Cigar City founder Joey Redner considers leaving Florida if bill passes

TAMPA — The area's best-known craft beer maker is considering leaving Florida if legislation passes that would restrict how small breweries distribute bottles and cans.

Joey Redner, founder of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, said the bill backed by the state's largest beer distributors has prompted him to consider moving his brewery to another Southeastern state where he could make more money.

"If I went out of state, I could build a brewery and still have close proximity to my markets, but I would have a revenue stream that makes me more competitive," he said Thursday. "I would be stupid not to consider it."

Redner, who runs a brewery on W Spruce Street, estimates he would lose $300,000 a year if the bill passes. Even if it fails, he worries that the issue could resurface and put his long-term expansion plans at risk.

"Not knowing the legislative climate, it's going to be hard to make a decision and commit to a multimillion-dollar expansion," he said.

The bill (SB 1714) would prohibit brewers who produce more than 2,000 kegs of beer a year from selling their products in bottles or cans at the brewery. Instead, they would have to go through a distributor who would sell it back to them at a marked-up price. It also would allow small breweries to sell popular half-gallon "growler" containers, which currently are banned.

The bill, which passed a Senate committee Monday, has drawn the ire of local craft beer makers who said it could put them out of business. Although Florida doesn't allow small breweries to distribute directly to bars, restaurants and stores, they can sell beer out of their tasting rooms. Cigar City sells about $900,000 in prepackaged beer a year out of the brewery site, including some kinds not available at bars and restaurants, Redner said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe this week proposed sending a letter to area legislators opposing the bill, but didn't get the support from other commissioners. Losing Cigar City Brewing would be devastating, he said, and goes against efforts to create a region more attractive to young people who favor cities with thriving craft beer cultures.

"We don't want to turn off the emerging wave of craft breweries," Sharpe said Thursday. "We're finally building a community where, when people graduate, they want to stay."

The craft beer industry has exploded in recent years with breweries and brewpubs popping up across the Tampa Bay area. In 2013, craft brewers accounted for about 8 percent of the total U.S beer market by volume, according to the Brewers Association. The retail value from craft brewers was estimated at $14.3 billion, up from $11.9 billion in 2012.

Cigar City makes about 100,000 kegs a year and employs nearly 70 people. It recently ordered four more fermenters but, after that, will reach capacity and need to expand, Redner said.

He said he has looked at properties in the Tampa Bay area and has been in touch with a real estate company that does business nationwide but, so far, hasn't pursued any out-of-state sites. A fifth-generation Floridian, he doesn't want to leave the area but also doesn't want his profits cut.

In a short time, he has made a big name for himself in craft beer circles. In February, he was nominated as a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional by the James Beard Foundation, a top honor among foodies.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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