Cocktails-to-go may soon be permanent in Florida
Lawmakers in Tallahassee are looking to make to-go booze a permanent option throughout the state, after an executive order allowing the option has been hailed as a success.
To-go cocktails and drinks may become a lasting feature of Florida’s food and beverage scene, as two state lawmakers introduced measures to make the lifeline for restaurants and bars a permanent fixture.
State Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, introduced Senate Bill 148, a measure that would allow bars and restaurants to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption.
Another measure, Senate Bill 134, introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would also legalize to-go cocktails, but looks to add specific container sizes and labeling requirements for malt beverages to the permanent policy.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has backed the idea of making “alcohol to go” permanent, after first including it in a March executive order – originally with the intent of opening up an extra source of revenue for bars and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brandes called it a “wildly successful” change that has “helped businesses get over the hump of the pandemic.”
“If bars start closing, half my business goes away, so we need them to survive,” said Philip McDaniel, legislative chair of the Florida Craft Spirits Association. “If you’re a bar and you can count on an extra $200 through to-go cocktails, how is that not a win for the bar and a win for the consumer?”
“We think it is a process that should continue, so we are looking to establish it in state law,” Brandes added.
Others are hoping if cocktails-to-go gain momentum and become permanent, distilleries and breweries can look forward to future reforms in Tallahassee.
Priorities for brewers include legalizing consumer delivery and self-distribution. “A lot of breweries are going to start feeling a lot of pressure over the next year,” said Jose Mallea, president of Biscayne Bay Brewing Company. “It’s going to be hard for some to get going again.”
More than 30 states have modernized their state laws to allow for self-distribution – allowing craft brewers to sell directly to customers instead of being forced to sell through a middleman. Florida, however, requires that all beer sold by retailers be sold through distributors.
“I think this could be a win-win for brewers and distributors. Legalizing self-distribution would give the smaller brewers more opportunity and room to grow,” Mallea added. “That makes it more likely they can achieve the volume that distributors look for in new partners.”
Loosening up alcohol regulations in Florida would open the door for many startup craft brewers trying to break into the market while giving critical breathing room to many struggling to sell their product during the pandemic.
“If you love the beer, if you love the culture, then you’re going to fight for it – I think that’s what makes our community resilient. But we need these barriers to success removed,” Mallea said.