The Compliant Florida Beer Festival

By Hans Splinter. Creative Commons.

Craft beer festivals are tremendously popular in Florida. The multiplication of beer festivals throughout the state has caused the state’s principal regulator of alcoholic beverages–the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (the ABT)–to take a closer look at how beer festivals are operated. Like all activities involving alcohol beverages, Florida beer festivals are subject to a confusing web of state and local laws and ordinances.

The following tips are intended to help organizers of Florida paid-admission beer festivals understand how state and local laws and ordinance may impact their festivals.

1. Get the Right Licenses and Permits

The organizers of a Florida paid-admission beer festival must have one or more vendor licenses and permits to serve beer on the festival premises. It can often take several months to complete the steps to get the right vendor licenses and permits, so organizers should not delay this step.

Consumption on Premises (COP) License. This license might be a 1COP, 2COP, or 4COP license, for instance when a bar or brewery taproom hosts a beer festival on its own premises. If the festival will include areas that are not typically part of the licensed premises–outdoor space, parking lot, brewing space, etc.–a temporary extension of the 1COP or 2COP license is required.

Caterer License. If the beer festival involves food sales provided by a licensed caterer, the caterer’s alcoholic beverages license (13CT license) can serve as the vendor license required for the beer festival. However, the 13CT license requires that the cater derive at least 51% of its gross revenue from the service of food at the festival.

Special Event License. Charitable organizations, cities, and counties can obtain a 1, 2, or 3-day special event license for the service of alcoholic beverages (ODP license). Where the organizers of a beer festival do not have a vendor license, or where the festival will take place away from the organizers’ licensed premises, partnering with a charity or municipality is the best way to obtain the required special event license.

City or County Permit. Before obtaining the required ABT-issued vendor license, the organizers of a beer festival must often obtain the license or permit required by the city or county government for the location of the festival. One of the first steps organizers should take is checking with the local zoning and planning office.

2. Have a Distributor Partner

According to the ABT, beer that is served at a paid-admission beer festival  must go through a licensed distributor (except when purchased by a licensed caterer). This is true even when beer is donated by a brewery to the charitable organizers of a beer festival. With a designated distributor partner, festival organizers can accommodate getting beer from any licensed production brewery, even those without a local distribution relationship.

Production breweries come in two varieties–those with distribution relationships and those without distribution relationships.

Breweries  with a local distributor can arrange to have their own distributor deliver beer to the festival. If the beer is being donated to a charitable organizer, the donation should be treated for income tax purposes as being made directly to the charity (that is, ownership of the beer passes directly from the brewery to the charity), but delivery should go through the distributor. Depending on the distributors ordering processes, this might require the creation of a zero-dollar invoices–from brewery to distributor and distributor to charity organizer–and filing differential price notices.

Many production breweries do not have distribution relationships, or their distributors may not deliver to the area of the festival. For these situations, the festival’s distributor partner can step in. The distributor partner should agree to a limited appointment from the breweries solely for purposes of receiving beer from the brewery and delivering it to the festival.

3. Make Sure Brands are Registered

Before being sold anywhere in Florida, all beer brands must be registered with the ABT. While breweries and distributors are primarily responsible for registering brands, the organizers of a Florida beer festival have an interest too. If unregistered beer brands are served at a Florida beer festival, the ABT could require the beer to be pulled from service.

Well in advance of the festival day, organizers should require brewers or distributor to provide proof that all beer brands being brought to the festival have been registered. Organizers can also independently verify that beer brands have been registered by searching the ABT’s website.

4. Have Your Own Servers

The ABT requires that all beer at a festival be poured only by employees or volunteers under the control of the organizers (more specifically, whoever it is that holds the vendor license for the event). This means that beer should not be served by any person who is included on a brewery or distributor license.

This does not mean that brewers cannot be on hand at Florida beer festivals, representing their beers and the breweries. They can. But if those brewers are on the brewery’s CMB license, then they should not be pouring beer, according to an ABT representative.

This also does not mean that brewery employees cannot pour beer at Florida beer festivals. They can, as long as they are serving as volunteers for the festival organizers.

If festival organizers will rely on breweries or distributors to provide pourers for the festival, then the organizers should have written agreement with each brewery and distributor, making it clear that all pourers are under the direction of the organizers at the festival, and confirming that pourers do not include an person who is listed on the brewery’s or distributor’s license.

5. Keep Homebrewers, Including Breweries in Planning, Separate and Free

If festival-goers are required to pay for admission to a beer festival, the ABT takes the position that beer provided by homebrewers, including unlicensed breweries-in-planning, cannot be served. If homebrewed beer cannot be sold, then charging admission to a beer festival that includes homebrewed beer is an unlawful sale, according to the ABT’s representative. To avoid this situation, but allow homebrewers and breweries-in-planning to participate, festival organizers should take steps to make homebrewed beer freely available to of-age patrons. Homebrewers and breweries-in-planning could be positioned in a certain area of the festival grounds that is open to the public. Alternatively, organizers could make available a “homebrewers wristband,” at no charge, which would allow festival-goers to only sample homebrewed beer.

Homebrewed beer should be served only by the homebrewers who brewed it. Homebrewers should be required to certify to the festival organizers that they have not exceeded the annual cap on homebrewed beer: 100 gallons per individual or 200 gallons per household. Homebrewers and breweries-in-planning cannot receive compensation for providing beer at the festival.

6. No Brewpubs, Unless You’re at a Brewpub

Brewpubs are prohibited from serving their beer anywhere other than their licensed brewpub. The only way a brewpub can participate in a beer festival is if the festival is at the brewpub itself.

Many production breweries call themselves “brewpubs,” and many brewpubs call themselves “breweries.” The best way for festival organizers to know whether a brewery is a production brewery (which can participate) or a brewpub (which cannot participate) is by requesting each participating brewery to confirm its state license.  Festival organizers can also look up breweries’ licenses themselves. In Florida, production breweries have a CMB license, the license number for which begins “WSL.” Florida brewpubs have a CMBP license, which is a special qualification to its retail (COP) license, the license number for which begins “BEV”.

7. Check IDs

Festival organizers have an obligation to ensure that beer is not served to a person under 21 years of age. Festival organizers can best meet this obligation by ensuring that the driver license or other government-issued ID of every festival-goer is checked before being admitted to the festival. If festival organizers will allow under-aged people to be admitted to the festival, additional steps must be taken to ensure that beer servers clearly know which festival-goers cannot be served. This could be done by issuing different colored, non-removable wristbands based on age, or any other reasonable system. Festival organizers must also take measures to ensure that beer is not being shared with under-aged people after it is served. Festival workers can be assigned to monitor the crowds, looking for sharing with under-aged people, and intervening when necessary.

Bonus: Don’t Serve Drunks and Have an Alternative Transportation Option

Festival organizers are not legally responsible for ensuring that festival-goers do not drive while intoxicated. However, this doesn’t mean that they should ignore the possibility entirely. Festival organizers could still be found civilly liable for negligence that results in damage to property or the death or injury of a person.

Festival organizers should have a plan to identify festival-goers who are visibly intoxicated. Steps may be taken to encourage intoxicated patrons to take a break from drinking but not immediately get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Making alternative transportation options clearly available, and encouraging intoxicated patrons to use them, should be part of a reasonable plan to curb driving while intoxicated. Transportation companies–like, Uber, Lyft, or taxi companies–make good sponsorship partners for beer festivals.

Organizers should take steps to make sure that Florida beer festivals are not only enjoyable but also legally compliant, especially if they want to continue organizing festivals. Contact BrewerLong if you have any questions about legal compliance for your Florida beer festivals.

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