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Dunedin breweries say pro-growler legislation is only first step

DUNEDIN — Craft beer crusaders seemingly finally had something to celebrate after a lengthy back-and-forth match of legislative tug-o-war led to a new law allowing brewers to refill large growlers.

With the number of craft breweries more than doubling since 2011, the anticipation of brewers' excitement was understandable, predictable even. But in Dunedin, home to the oldest craft production brewery in the state, some breweries could not get behind the celebration.

For these breweries, workers say the new law that allows them to refill 64 oz. growlers is more symbolic than useful.

Large beer distributors largely objected to the idea, insisting that sale be separate of distribution and production. Proponents of the law said forbidding the refills in the first place infringed on free market principles.

But Dunedin brewery veterans said they've yet to see any real implications, for better or for worse, since the law was signed.

Tasting Room Manager Kat Davis said it's business as usual at 7venth Sun Brewing Company. Comparatively, the volume of beer available at 7venth is less than its competitors, she added.

The brewery has never even offered 64 oz. growlers on shelves to begin with. If a customer requested it, they'd simply just order two 32 oz. growlers instead.

"It's not a big priority honestly," Davis said.

July 1, the date the law went into effect, came and went for these breweries. There were no lines out the doors or antsy bar patrons shoving to be the first to have their 64-oz. jugs refilled.

In fact, there was hardly a demand at all, Davis said. She estimated that she personally filled maybe seven or eight growlers in that first week.

At the House of Beer brewery, the story was just the same.

"Nobody's selling any more beer because of it. It just got one of the silly laws off the books," owner Andy Polce said. "There are just more important battles to fight I think right now."

And both Davis and Polce said that battle consists of pushing for breweries to be able to self-distribute. In beer world, according to the Brewers Association, self-distribution means being able to make direct sales and deliveries to retailers.

In Florida, no brewery can sell directly to a vendor. So, brewery operators like Davis and Polce said, this limits their operations.

"The only way to make it in distributing is to do a lot of it," Polce said. "And a lot of these start-up breweries don't have that capital."

While self-distribution might not yet be a reality, some breweries are linking arms with lawmakers and lobbyists to see to it their own input is not ignored. There's even a caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives — the House Small Brewers Caucus — that works to understand these issues.

"That goes to show you the growth has been astronomical in the past five years," Polce said. "It's a start."

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at mmajchrowicz@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @mjmajchrowicz.

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