Who Can Fill Growlers in Florida? Depends on Who You Ask

2014-12-29 08.43.05

Can a Florida beer bar fill growlers? Can a Florida brewery fill growlers with guest beers? The Florida Beverage Law and related regulations do not provide a clear answer. So we took the next step: we called the government agency in charge, the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (ABT). Actually, we called each of the ABT’s Law Enforcement District Offices, and we asked each of them this question:

“Can a holder of a 2COP license fill growlers (within the legal size limits and properly sealed) for off-premises consumption?”

The answers we got, shown in the table below, were not entirely consistent.

12 Calls, 8 Answers

During the month of December 2014, we called the each of the ABT’s 12 Law Enforcement District Offices. Unfortunately, we never connected with a law enforcement officer in 4 important district offices–Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, and Tallahassee. But the 8 district officers with which we did connect split 5-2-1 in their responses.

We asked specifically about holders of 2COP licenses because most beer bars and brewery taprooms have 2COP licenses. According to the ABT, the 2COP license allows the holder to offer beer and wine “for sale by the drink (consumption on premises) or in sealed containers for package sales.”

 Most Answered Yes

Enforcement officers in 6 of the ABT Law Enforcement District Offices–those in Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Pensacola, Tampa, and West Palm Beach–reported that, yes, a 2COP license holder is allowed to fill growlers. Although none could point to a specific statute or regulatory rule for support, one of the officers sent us a copy of the ABT’s Internal Management Memorandum dated April 7, 2014.

The ABT’s memo provides a list of the license types that do not allow filling growlers, because they are limited to consumption on premises only. This list does not include the 2COP license, which allows sales of beer and wine for consumption off-premises. The implication is clear: because it’s not on the ABT’s “no growler-filling list,” the 2COP license does allow the holder to fill growlers, either with their own beer or guest beers.

 Some Said No

Not all of the enforcement officers we spoke with agreed that 2COP license holders can fill growlers. The officer in the Panama City district office said we should ask the Tallahassee office (which did not return our call). Enforcement officers in the Orlando and Margate concluded that, no, a 2COP license holder is not allowed to fill growlers, unless it’s a licensed brewery filling growlers with its own beer.

As basis for the “no” position, one of the law enforcement officers cited to the ABT’s definition of a package store, contained in Florida Administrative Code Rule 61A-1.006(3). The rule defines package store as “a licensed place of business where alcoholic beverages are sold in the original sealed container as received from the distributor for consumption off the premises only.” The officer extrapolated from this that a “package sale,” as used in defining the 2COP license type, means a sale of beer or wine in the original sealed container as received from the distributor. Because a growler is not the original sealed container for beer–unless it is filled by the brewery itself–filling a growler is not a package sale.

 An End to Confusion?

Most of the ABT enforcement officers we spoke with mentioned that the laws are very confusing, on filling growlers and other subjects. I believe that these men and women are doing their best to make sense of the incomplete and inconsistent state of the Florida Beverage Law. They are as frustrated by it as anyone else.

Help–for the ABT enforcement officers and the rest of us–might be on its way. Senate Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) has already introduced Senate Bill 186 for consideration in the 2015 Florida Legislative session. Senate Bill 186 aims to create a new section of the Florida Beverage Law to deal with growlers. The new law would explicitly permit growlers to be filled by 2COP license holders.

 How Each Law Enforcement District Office Responded

District Office Can a 2COP license holder fill growlers?
Ft Myers Yes
Ft Pierce Yes
Gainesville Did not respond
Jacksonville Did not respond
Margate No
Miami Did not respond
Orlando No
Panama City Referred to Tallahassee
Pensacola Yes
Tallahassee Did not respond
Tampa Yes
West Palm Beach Yes