With all the hub-bub of our public announcement for GrassLands Brewing Company's future home last week, I can't even convey how giddy our team is feeling at the moment. Really, it's extremely hard to describe how one feels when you turn a corner in your entrepreneurial endeavor and, for all intents and purposes, there's no turning back. 3+ years in the making and we're nearly there. I've always said that starting this thing has been the most exciting and most terrifying thing I've ever done. However, seeing each and every one of our dear readers' support has been so encouraging and constantly puts a smile on our collective face.
Alright, Gabe...Enough sappy stuff - it's time to get to work!
I knew that we had something special brewing (forgive the pun) when Scott Hall, our Veep of Operations, first approached us about how he could get more involved. Here's a great example why - when State Representative Ray Rodrigues' big beer bill (HB1329) saw the light of day this past month, it got our feathers more than a little ruffled. As a result, Scott and I decided to publish his letter directly to Rodrigues expressing his disappointment on behalf of GrassLands Brewing Company. That letter (which we hope you will share with many, many others) is below.
March 14, 2014
My name is Scott Hall and I am the vice president of GrassLands Brewing Company, a brewery opening this summer in Tallahassee within walking distance of the capitol. I have also operated numerous craft beer bars in Tallahassee, several of which were also in the shadow of the capitol building. Your recently filed bill, HB1329, came to the attention of both myself and Gabe Grass, the president of GrassLands Brewing. There are some very good things in the bill, particularly the legalization of 64oz growlers, however, there were also several points that raised some concern with us.
To highlight my own background, I, along with a group of beer enthusiasts, opened a craft beer-centric bar, Fermentation Lounge, in 2008. As an interesting aside, I was able to help fund its launch with money that I had diligently saved while working for the Florida House of Representatives and writing their bill drafting software. Fermentation was an instant hit in Tallahassee, and has received national recognition as well. For the past four years, it has been listed as one of the Top 50 bars in the United States as voted by barfinder.com. Just this past year, Fermentation was ranked the sixth best bar in the entire country. This is quite an accomplishment for a 1,000 sq/ft bar that specializes in serving esoteric beer from around the United States. As Fermentation gained notoriety, I began to meet more and more customers from outside the state. With its universities and government agencies, as well as outdoor attractions, Tallahassee is surprisingly well-visited for a city of its size. From these visitors, I was asked over and over again to try several Florida beers or to provide Florida beers for visitors to purchase and take home to their friends and family. When we opened Fermentation in 2008, there were virtually no Florida beers available that I could offer them. The infamous bottle size law that was overturned in 2001 put a major hit on craft beer growth in the state of Florida, and subsequently, our state’s beer industry trailed the rest of the nation by nearly a decade. But as the years passed, times changed and Florida craft beer began to rocket to the forefront of the nation. I wanted to be a part of this, so I sold all of my stake in these bars and partnered with Gabe and Saralyn Grass to open GrassLands Brewing Company. GrassLands is named after Gabe because amazing brewers get to do that sort of thing.
GrassLands will be opening in the latter half of July 2014, literally only several blocks from the capitol building, but too late to be grandfathered in before the enactment of HB1329, should it be voted into law. Because of our timing and the potential passage of HB1329, we may not be able to feature other Florida breweries in our taproom nor serve any beers that we brewed collaboratively with other Florida (or even out of state) breweries. Craft beer can be a difficult culture to understand because breweries rarely, if ever, view each other as competition. Craft beer represents a very small market share, between six and ten percent depending on which figures you read, so we see massive room for growth and are quite passionate about bringing our products to people who have never tried them. As a means to that end, established breweries go out of their way to help fledgling breweries. Indeed, the world famous Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa has gone on to assist the launch of many new breweries started by their own departing employees.
The Florida craft brewing industry is working together to get as many Floridians as possibly interested in craft beer. Whenever possible, we use locally grown ingredients. Virtually all of us return spent grain from the brewing process back to local farmers for use as feed and/or compost to aid in growing more crops. In bottles, cans, or growlers, our beer is brought to other states by enthusiastic tourists who raise awareness and interest in Florida beer. These enthusiasts often travel back to Florida to tour breweries and, as we grow larger, we have the capability to ship our beer to their states. The proceeds of these sales come back to Florida, stay in Florida, and circulate to our local communities. The way we ensure that the Florida craft brewing industry is vibrant is by selling customers our beer and promoting each other's locally made beers. As of today, the GrassLands team could go to Tampa and make a collaborative beer with CigarCity. They may share their knowledge with us and use their trusted name in the Florida and national brewing market to help promote our own start-up brewery. We could serve this beer in our onsite taproom, along with many of our own offerings and also several other Florida-based beers. GrassLands would also gain publicity and traction through CigarCity and other Florida breweries in their tap rooms. They grow, we grow, Florida grows. Unfortunately, HB1329 will absolutely prevent this from happening. Collaborative beers become illegal for us to serve, and no longer can we promote other Florida breweries in our tap room. The craft beer community, the absolute essence of craft brewing, will effectively be outlawed.
On the opposite side of the spectrum sit two big beer companies: AB/In-Bev from Belgium, and SAB-Miller from South Africa. Again, depending on where you source your information, these two foreign-based companies control between seventy five and ninety percent of the beer market in the United States. The annual market size of beer in the United States is over $100 billion dollars. That is over six times the size of NASA’s annual budget. Of that hundred billion dollar market share, up to 90 percent of it is going to foreign-based conglomerates. Not exactly a bill designed to benefit to Florida small business.
We don’t like that, but we aren’t asking to be handed anything. What we are asking is for inherently American (more specifically Floridian): a chance for us as small brewers to have a level playing field to fight for ourselves. Craft brewers have better products, better communities, better people, and we aren't shy about sticking up for those attributes. As such, we're very disappointed in the filing of HB1329 as it indirectly supports internationally-owned businesses while directly stifling the growth of Floridian-owned small businesses.
GrassLands Brewing Company is merely blocks from the capitol, and amazing craft breweries have sprung up all around the state. Come visit us and find out how craft brewers like us, as small businesses, are worth your support.
Thank you for your time and consideration and I hope that the Florida craft beer industry can count on your support in the future.
Vice President of Operations
GrassLands Brewing Company
See what I mean? I'm fully confident we're going to do great things at GrassLands Brewing Company, and Scott will be an integral component in making that a reality!
With that, we'll leave you to it for now. Have an absolutely awesome weekend, my dear readers, because you most definitely deserve it!