A Bit of Perspective..


Hi folks,

My name is Mike Halker and I own Due South Brewing Company and I brew beer for a living.  I’m also the President of the Florida Brewers Guild.  This is my second year as president and the year before I served on the board of directors.  I’m going to attempt to put some perspective on our situation for those of you that are interested.  Please be aware, I’m writing this as a guy that cares a great deal about the craft beer industry as a whole, and in particular in Florida.  Not as the president of the FBG, but just as a guy in the middle of it all.

I have access to information.  Probably as much information as anyone involved in craft beer in Florida, concerning the current lawsuit and legislative issues in Tallahassee.  Not that I’m special, I’m just in the right place at the right time.  I see many opinions from attorneys that have read the formal petition.  While I appreciate the fact folks are paying attention, deciphering the legal language in the filing is a fairly one-dimensional view of what’s happening.  I’m no lawyer so I don’t pretend to understand all the legal stuff.  Fortunately for me, there are people who are very good at what they do who are paid to decipher it and explain it to me.  This information then becomes part of a much larger picture.  The big picture is a complicated one, and there is a group of us, some paid and some volunteers, who spend a lot of time trying to make sense of it all.  We meet frequently, have conversations with Representatives and Senators, discuss issues with national Brewers Association people, look at what other states have done and are doing, and do our best to formulate a plan that makes sense.  Feasibility is the key.  You don’t drag a kayak out into the surf off Daytona thinking you’re going to Spain.  Your plan must at least have an opportunity for success.

I have heard comments like, “Here we go again.  Every year the craft brewers are fighting in Tallahassee.  When will this be over?”  The short answer is, probably never.  Keep in mind there are people who are paid lots of money to push us around.  If they don’t come after us, they have no job.  It’s doubtful the day they leave us alone will come anytime soon.  Their tactic is primarily to inundate us with garbage so we spend our time fighting for what we have rather than trying to accomplish something new.  If they keep us distracted with things like keeping our tasting rooms open, they think we won’t be attempting to get things like limited self-distribution or franchise law reform.  In the past the FBG has been a fairly weak, somewhat disorganized group.  Those days are over.  If the FBWA would have pulled what they did last session a few years ago, they would have succeeded.  There was simply no one at the watch.  No mas.  When they pulled this stunt with the lawsuit, Josh notified us minutes after it was filed.  The FBG board of directors were in conversations immediately.

So let’s briefly look at how it goes down.  The FISA files a lawsuit against the state challenging the law that allows breweries to have tasting rooms.  We find out and begin to strategize.  Keep in mind, this is a fluid thing.  It’s not bang, this thing happens and bam, this is what we do about it.  No.  A bit later the Retail Federation jumps in.  Now we have a completely new issue to consider.  Remember, we’re not just figuring out what we need to do to respond, we’re also trying to figure out the motivation behind it.  Why did it happen in the first place?  Who stands to gain?  What are the ramifications to our short and long term plans?  While we’re contemplating the issue, the FBWA and BIF, wholesaler groups, jump in.  Now things are taking shape and we’re beginning to see how it’s coming together.  In the meantime, we’re not the only ones involved.  They’re not attacking us directly, they’re attacking the state.  Now the state must defend itself and we certainly want to be involved as we’re obviously the ones fundamentally affected.  We’re pissed off, the state is pissed off, the ABT is pissed off, the legislators are pissed off and basically everyone that drinks craft beer in Florida is pissed off.  I’ve had plenty of other folks from around the country contact me.  They’re pissed off too.
Which brings me to another point.  During the time all of this is going on, keep in mind we’re staring down the barrel of another legislative session.  We’ve been planning our strategy for the past year getting ready to head to Tallahassee and do our thing and we’ve got this in our lap.  And the biggest burden of all?  It’s public.  Not only do we have to address the situation itself, but we have to manage the shitstorm taking place on Facebook, on Twitter, on all of the blogs by craft beer folks, attorneys, etc., and in practically every tasting room and craft beer bar in the state.  Most folks are behind us and support us tremendously and it’s fantastic.  Then one guy says “screw you guys if you don’t go for the throat and get self-distribution, franchise reform, and whatever else, like Washington did.”  As though this were an option.  Yes, it’s a crock that we still don’t have 64 oz. growlers.  Some folks seem to attribute it to the weakness of the FBG.  And, as I admitted earlier, it wasn’t that long ago that the FBG was weak.  But our prior weakness has little to do with the reason we don’t have 64 oz. growlers.  It’s the strength of our opponent.  The reason the growler law hasn’t passed is simply, they didn’t want it to.  And the reason it’s going to pass this year is not because we’re so much stronger, it’s that we’ve successfully painted them as the bastards they are.  Not by ourselves mind you, but by engaging the craft beer supporters in Florida.  They came out of the woodwork to back us up and were a noisy, effective bunch.  Believe me, after last session, there are legislators walking around the capital right now thinking, “Just don’t piss off the craft brewers.”

Now back to our opponents.  The FBWA is led by a lobbyist named Mitch Rubin.  Mitch gets paid lots of money to go to Tallahassee and represent a bunch of Bud distributors and one Miller distributor.  This may change due to the Reyes / Gold Coast deal but you get the picture.  Mitch has convinced the distributors that Bud and Miller are going to come into Florida and open up a brewery on every corner to bypass the three-tier system if they don’t protect themselves against it with new laws.  He contends, “what’s good for the craft brewers is also good for Bud so you better watch yourself”.  Think about it, what else does Mitch have to fight for?  Every time he says the sky is falling, they write him another check.  I’d turn into Chicken Little too, wouldn’t you?  Sure, Bud sales are down a bit, but look how much additional revenue they’re making from craft.  The three-tier system is firmly in place so no issues there.  Brewer / distributor contracts are exactly the way they want them.  Hell, even gas prices are down.  What more could these people want?  So why should Mitch exist?  He’s convinced them (and he’s not entirely wrong, just mostly) that AB INBEV, the foreign company that owns Bud now, is completely driven by the dollar, doesn’t care about the wholesalers and they’re just waiting for the right time to swoop in and take the beer industry away from the distributors.  Again, whatever is good for craft is good for Bud.  So his job is to tie things up and make sure the only moves made in the industry are to close the hole in the law that would allow Bud and / or Miller to open a million breweries in Florida (no, it’s never happened before in the history of mankind) so the distributors don’t get their cut.  When we proposed allowing 64 oz. growlers he decided to attach language to our bill that would close these holes.  In doing so, it would have been very detrimental to craft brewers.  So we killed the whole thing.

To that end, I’d also like to point out to those that think we should all sit down, play nice, and come up with a compromise for everything, this simply isn’t an option.  We want different things.  We have tried discussions with these people.  It doesn’t work.  I can’t go into detail but suffice it to say I won’t make the same mistake twice.  That horse is dead, enough beating already.

Another thing to remember here, our budget to fight this last year was about $20,000.  Just one member of the FBWA pays dues more than twice that amount.  These guys have tons of money and money talks when it comes to politics.  Money (at least in my experience) doesn’t buy politicians.  But it grants access.  It’s like, “Here’s a check to help you get reelected, now could I have a few minutes to explain my position on (insert bill here)?”  We couldn’t write very many checks.  They could write as many as they wanted.  So when you say “Go to Tallahassee and get self-distribution!”, this is what we’re up against.  It’s not like they argue their side, then we argue our side, then a judge decides in someone’s favor.  We plead our case in front of a committee, then the bill sponsor pleads it to the other legislators, then there’s a vote.  Some folks are passionate about the industry and try to help us.  Senator Latvala and Representative Young are good examples.  Some folks could care less and just vote the way their buddy across the aisle does.  And some folks vote a particular way due to political influence.  Senator Stargell was practically crucified last year for going against us.  She brought the bill in as a favor to Senate President Gaetz.  He did it as a favor for Lewis Bear, a big Bud distributor in the panhandle.  Now she’ll forever be known as a craft hater but she did what she had to.  The Senate President has quite a bit of power and when he says to introduce a bill, it’s political suicide not to.  She simply had no idea what she was getting herself into.  Poor thing.

So now here we are this year.  There are many more brewers in Florida, many of them with opinions on what our priorities should be.  We have better relationships with legislators, many of whom will tell us how it is, some of whom we have no idea what they’ll do, and some of whom have long standing relationships with our opponents.  Are we in better shape than we were last year?  Certainly.  Not only are we more organized and connected, but the elections were good for us for the most part.  Even still, it is a process.  And there are no guarantees.  And our funds are limited.  And our opponents aren’t.  We will certainly do our best.  Since the lawsuit has come up our short term objectives have shifted a bit but we’re still focused.  We are confident that we can make due with whatever resources we have, all the while wishing we had more.  If we had more we could accomplish more.  Some day we will have more.

I hope this clears a few things up and sheds a little light on how all of this is going down.  I won’t give up our strategy or tell any secrets but I do think folks have a right to know how things work behind the scenes, even if they can’t be privy to exactly what’s going on.  It’s should be an interesting ride this year to say the least.

I’m a Florida craft beer guy through and through and I’m going to do my best to make a difference this year, along with the other members of the board, and Josh and Melissa.  We’re a pretty sharp bunch and I’ve got a lot of confidence in these people.  I hope that before it’s all over you will too.

And please keep in mind the next time you jump on the FBG on Facebook or Twitter or where ever, these people are taking their free time (of which they have little) and using it for the greater good of the craft beer industry of Florida.  Some of us have a lot at stake, an eye on the big picture and are in it for the long haul.  While we won’t reach our goals overnight, we will reach them.

Thank you all for your support and I hope someday in the near future to write you again, to deliver good news.


Ps.  If you’ve read this all the way down to here, do me a favor and pat yourself on the back for me.  It’s an indication that you truly care and it’s folks like you that keep folks like me going.  Cheers.

24 thoughts on “A Bit of Perspective..

  1. Mike, you likely won’t know me by name but I remember meeting you at BX Beer Depot several years ago, long before the doors opened to Due South. I was a very inexperienced home brewer and was looking for advice on the proper substitute for a hop that was unavailable. You took the time to talk to me and help me and for that I am grateful. Now, I am serving my beers at local beerfests and have won a few competitions. My brew partner and I aspire to open a microbrewery within the next 18-24 months. Without you “fighting the good fight” for little guys like us we wouldn’t even have a glimmer of hope for our future plans. Thank you for the great synopsis of the current situation and thank you for all that you do.-Tom Ogden

    1. Thanks Tom, and I do remember. I also seem to remember seeing you guys not long after that, might have been at the Buddha in Boca, and you guys said that beer ended up being a pretty good one. Best of luck on the new venture and let us know if we can help. Cheers.

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for the perspective on the FISA lawsuit and some of the gears working behind the clock faceplate. I’m just a simple craft beer drinker in South Florida. However, mist of my friends are the same and we frequent numerous FL breweries annually including yours. We’ve come to know brewery owners, Managers, Bartenders, Brewers, and entreprenuers. They are our friends and we believe strongly in what they are trying to accomplish. As the big, bad wolves come to try to blow the houses (or tasting rooms) down, please know there are thousands of us ready to help hold the structure together. Whether it’s a donation for legal bills, letter and email writing, blogging, marching, or simply continuing to visit breweries, we are here. How do you save a drowning lobbyist? Who cares. Thanks again Mike.

  3. Thanks for the detailed and long thought-out explanation Mike. It really is scary times and we will all try to do what is right. ALL of us in the industry will do whatever we can to support the work of the FBG.

    As a group we MUST band together to fight for a solution that protects our way of life. It drives me nuts how we’re trying to solve problems that don’t exist at the expense of an industry that so strongly drives tourism here in Florida.

    Please be sure our fight focuses on how strongly we drive tourism when working with the legislature.


    Mike Doble
    Tampa Bay Brewing Company

  4. Thanks for taking the time to write this and explain the big picture for those of us with out a law degree! Love Due South beer and wishing you success in Tallahassee.

  5. Well written perspective. I’m very happy to hear that Ms. Stargell’s experience with craft beer left a mark. Let’s hope others learn from the experience.

    The good old boy network is alive and well judging by the backers of this lawsuit. That said, there are a heck of a lot of craft beer lovers out there. Get us lined up against a common objective and watch out.

    Donation sent, petition signed – let us know what you need us to do next.

  6. Great write, the more information we have as craft beer lover’s the better we can battle. Keep up the great work you are doing,I for one will be aware of which of our fine pols is for and against the craft industry, my vote will count.

  7. Mike,

    Great read. Might I suggest posting the link to the fund that is collecting money to help with your fight? I saw it on FB yesterday but cannot find it now. Guessing anyone who reads this would understand the need to donate a ‘six pack’ to ensure the can continue to drink them in the future.


  8. Thanks you Mike, for an presenting the reality of the situation in such thought provoking article. We are big supporters of Florida craft beer in southwest Florida and I intend to both be active in declaring my support for it to legislators as well as encouraging others to do so also.

  9. Simply, I live in New England. My girlfriend and I will be in Florida for a week in February to enjoy some sunny weather. The first thing we did after making our hotel reservations was plan what breweries to visit. Beer tourism is real and growing. Florida, please do not make your state unwelcoming to beer geeks like us. Looking forward to visiting your tasting room soon Due South. Cheers!

  10. Mike, thank you for shedding more light on the subject, & for helping lead this fight. It’s an unfortunate fact that the history of our great country has always been that big business use it’s monetary, & social clout to stifle, & oppress competition; instead of allowing consumerism of the free market to dictate how the market develops. Keep fighting the hard fight, & know that you have support from all the craft heads.

  11. As a long-time beer advocate and beer blogger (http://sprbrewecrew.wordpress.com), I have been following the twisted and frustrating machinations of the big brewers, politicians and, most recently, the lawsuit brought by Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organizations.

    Florida, though it is the third largest state in the nation by population, is one of the most archaic in how it deals with liquor laws. We are becoming known as a state that is run by the “good ol’ boys” in the beer industry. Good ol’ boys like Lewis Bear a Bud distributor in the pan handle that has Senate President Don Gaetz in his pocket. Bear’s ability to get his ‘friend,’ Gaetz to strong arm Senator Kelli Stargel into introducing last year’s bill smacks of under-handed dealings and a Senate leader that is more interested in advancing his friend’s agenda than doing what is right for all businesses within the state.

    Ben Davis of Intuition Ale Works issued a call to action over the weekend. In it he asks craft beer lovers and small business supporters to join the fight by asking the entities involved in this newest threat to Florida’s craft beer industry to explain themselves. View his plea here:


    The questions need to be asked; why are you introducing this lawsuit? Is it out of concern for the public or is it out of greed?

    There is also a petition on Change.org to make our opinion known. Take a few moments to add your voice to the cause here:


  12. Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Let’s not forget about the craft distillers in the state! As a craft distillery we are only able to sell two bottles per person per year out of our tasting room. We need to keep a database of everyone we sell to during the year to be sure we don’t sell them more than two bottles. We lose business and have a lot of extra work just to ring someone up.

    If one of our consumers buys two bottles of a special release that is only available at the distillery then they cannot buy the next special release that comes out in the same year! HB107 includes the deletion of the limit on sales to consumers from our tasting room.


    Troy Roberts
    Founder/CEO & Head Distiller
    Siesta Key Rum

  13. Well, put. It certainly makes the whole thing a bit clearer. And my opinion on the specific drop in Bud sales is that from what I’ve seen over the last few years is that AB-INBEV has been pulling the Bud taps and replacing them with Stella Artois.

  14. Mike

    I apologize for not knowing all the acronyms, but do these include retailers like Luekens and other liqour stores? If so, we should publish which stores are behind the lawsuit and both stop buying from them and picket them. I made the necessary phone calls last year and am very happy with Mike Fasano’s actions. If action is needed, get the word out. We are all here ready to help.

  15. Mike
    Thank you for the enlightenment. I for one have been on the list of “Disappointed with the FBG”. Knowledge is power and communication like this is all we have to keep our hopes up that there is indeed someone fighting for our side. It makes the decision FBG membership easier. Please keep up the fight and thank you for the obvious untold hours you spend to secure this industries place in this state.

  16. Very well done, Mike. This has been a passion for many MANY years. This goes back to lobbying the bottle size law in college.

    So, my question to you is this (and thanks for being engaged with FBG enough that we can ask) … how do we engage at the grass roots? Which Senators or Reps do you need help with? Where can we apply pressure or make phone calls? This is what would help in terms of momentum.

    We should never lose the edge in the craft that forces those representatives to cringe and give pause lest we fall back to the obscurity that allowed the Big 3 to write laws to keep the market shut down for years.

    Thanks again for your activism and you work in the industry.

  17. I can’t help but wonder can we win with money only or should we find ways to protest against senators who oppose us only to help the people who gave them money. Like in the case of our state Senate President if we use his own words against him particularly what he said to the Miami Herald about needing to listen to his friend and ab-inbev distributor. Maybe we could get their most powerful allies in the Senate replaced.

  18. Dear Mr. Halker,

    I read the blog you posted on your website and would like the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA) and myself.

    I appreciate your concerns and the concerns of so many small, local brewers throughout Florida. To that end, please know that we are not your adversaries. When small brewers grow and succeed, so do my members or their competitors in the distributor tier. Every day in every community across Florida, my members and many Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) members share a passion for bringing high quality, fresh beer to consumers. And every day, they work side-by-side to deliver an amazing variety of malt beverages to consumers. Distributors print the signs, purchase the point of sale material, cooperate in marketing and advertising, clean draft lines, refrigerate local craft to lower temperatures, conduct tastings, support craft festivals and so much more. Distributors have invested hundreds of millions in warehouses, vehicles, software and personnel to serve their supplier and retail partners.

    Growlers. We agree with you. It is time to put the growler issue to rest. We support Senator Latvala’s effort via SB 186 and endorse its passage. With basic sealing and labeling requirements – modest accommodations – passing this into law should be a relatively easy undertaking. We believe that these containers should be properly sealed, if for no other reason than for law enforcement purposes (think open container laws). Secondly, we believe that alcohol by content (ABV) should be on the labels so that consumers can be made aware of the potency of the beverage. As craft brewers know better than anyone, the difference in ABV between a Session IPA and an Imperial IPA is substantial.

    Administrative Action. For years, the Division has been issuing retail licenses to brewers under the so-called “tourism exception.” As you know, the clear language of the statute says that in order for a brewer to qualify for such a license, that brewer must have “other structures” supporting the brewery and the tourism industry of the state. As I read the retailers’ administrative action, it simply asks the division to clarify – via rule – what it is that constitutes “other structures.” Last year we were told that brewers do not need a change to the law to allow them to hold retail licenses. Yet now, somehow, retailers seeking clarity of that very same law will bring an end to the privilege to hold retail licenses. Retailers, and everyone who must abide by Florida’s three-tier system, have a legitimate interest in knowing exactly what the rules are.

    It is not our intention to shut down tasting rooms. In fact, we support every brewery’s right to have a tasting room and to sell growlers of beer brewed on the premises. We also support retail privileges at small breweries. We do not believe that the administrative action would impact existing licenses.

    That said, the retail associations are in the process of withdrawing the administrative action because the Division has agreed to proceed to rulemaking. We would like to work together in rulemaking and in the legislature.

    “We have tried discussions with these people.” And so have we with the FBG. In fact, we had a meeting scheduled to do just that – sit and meet to discuss our differences. That meeting, as you may recall, was cancelled at the last minute by your team and with neither explanation nor an attempt to reschedule. Our differences are not irreconcilable. If our respective members can find ways to work well together day in and day out, then so can we. It begins with a willingness to come together, and a desire to sit down, face-to-face, to try and work out those differences. We would love that opportunity.

    Three-Tier System. Our concerns are real and they should be of concern to all small brewers and retailers too. Ultimately, a healthy distributor tier is important for efficient distribution to retail. When the playing field in each tier or between tiers gets out of balance, the disorder in the market might ultimately lead to distributors and retailers competing with brewers.

    Conclusion. I would hope that the FBWA and FBG can begin working together in a spirit of accomplishment and moving forward. You are right in saying that these fights only divert us from our collective purposes, but you are mistaken when you say there is no common ground. I would kindly ask that you refrain from personal slights claiming that those who disagree with you have no legitimate interest or are concocting disagreements merely for personal gain. The interests of my members are indeed legitimate as are your concerns and the concerns of your members. Neither of us is served when this discussion devolves into name-calling or inaccurately questioning someone else’s motives.

    I agree with you that Floridians are welcoming the growth of craft beer and consumers are indeed speaking with their wallets. The explosive growth in locally owned breweries is a testament to your members. The partnership between local brewers and local distributors is proof that we have a pretty good system and one that fosters a spirit of competition. I hope we can work together to improve upon this system without tearing apart those things that make it work for craft brewers, distributors, retailers and the public.

    Thank you for allowing me to respond.


    Mitch Rubin
    Executive Director
    Florida Beer Wholesalers Association

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