By Bill Rufty
Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 at 9:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 14, 2014 at 9:41 p.m.
LAKELAND | The beer wars have exploded in the Florida Legislature this session. Craft breweries are fighting a bill that would require them to sell their own bottled beer to a distributor and then buy it back if they want to sell on their premises.

Senate Bill 1714 by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland and chair of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee on an 8-1 vote last week. It requires craft brewers to pay a distributor for all craft beer in bottles or cans sold on site, including what they brew themselves.

Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, is a

member of the House Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee that has heard the bills. He argued that the legislation requiring craft brewers to use a distributor is not a ploy by big brewers to keep craft brewers from competing against them.

"The craft brewers are fighting the three-tiered system set up after Prohibition ended that has kept the industry functioning without the corruption and uncontrolled regulations," Albritton said.

"Before Prohibition and during it, alcohol sales and manufacturing were all mixed up and there was no control," Albritton said.

Under the three-tier system, a company is either a manufacturer, a distributor or a point of sale vendor (retail store).

Keeping these three separate is important to control alcohol regulations, he said.

But both sides have battled most of the session over the bills.

"I have never seen this amount of lobbying on anything as much as this issue since I have been here," Albritton said

The beer battles were not issues Stargel wanted, but once given the task, she studied it for the better part of a year, she said.

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