100+ Fla. Breweries In Danger Of Permanently Closing; Guild Urges Immediate Action

Jul 22, 2020

One group that’s been hit particularly hard by the pandemic are Florida’s craft beer brewers.

On Tuesday, the Florida Brewers Guild sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary Halsey Beshears, Department of Business & Professional Regulation, stating that the state’s “entire industry is now in jeopardy,” due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

In part, the letter read:

The vast majority of breweries in Florida (approximately 90%) have been closed in 2020 for more days than they have been open. Those openings were only previously permitted under some type of exemption created by your administration. This is quite obviously unsustainable for our small businesses. As of the writing of this letter, our internal polling has revealed that we are likely to lose more than 100 breweries permanently if this continues for more than 2 weeks. Let us repeat that – more than 100 breweries in 2 weeks – and with that, nearly a third of the 10,000 jobs supported by our industry.

The guild asked its members to share the letter, which also outlines the industry’s economic impact on the state and asks for a plan to safely reopen breweries, to share it on their social media channels, and ask their followers to do the same, and tag the governor and their local representatives.

Several First Coast breweries, including Aardwolf, Southern Swells, and Intuition Ale Works did so.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Ben Davis is the owner of Intuition Ale Works, which was founded in 2010 and has a brewery and taproom in Downtown Jacksonville. He appeared on Tuesday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross and said that this is an example of the “strong misunderstanding of how our industry operates.” 

He also explained that the brewers’ frustration stems from the fact that they believe they can open and operate in a responsible manner that meets the guidelines that are applied to other businesses, such as restaurants.

“My feeling is that if you’re licensed in the state of Florida as a manufacturer of beer, and you have your federal license, which basically comes hand in hand, I think that our taprooms should be able to be open,” said Davis. “I don’t think we’re asking for anything unique, I mean they’ve carved out other exceptions for a lot of other industries in the state. And yet we're kind of standing here saying, Well, what about us? So I think that, when you start to say, there are concrete examples of breweries that can be going out of business, when we're potentially losing 30% of the breweries in the state, it should be taken seriously.”

Florida’s bars and breweries were permitted to reopen with limited capacity on June 5. But on June 26, those with more than 50% of sales deriving from alcohol were forced to stop selling beverages for on-site consumption, due to the state’s rising number of coronavirus cases. 

On July 17 the state renewed its late June decision, leaving most breweries to operate on a “to-go” model only, which the guild argues is not sustainable.

Only bars with a 509 license, which qualifies them as a “public food service establishment,” are allowed to continue to serve alcohol for on-site consumption.

Intuition is one of them, thanks to its in-house kitchen and chef.

“We've had a full kitchen since we opened almost four years ago Downtown,” explained Davis. So we're licensed, we’re regulated by the same - and we are a restaurant, in the eyes of the state with our licenses.So we definitely benefit from that. But overall, I mean, then there's issues of breweries now are scrambling to try to get kitchens there. They're scrambling to try to find a solution, which I think is kind of unfair when you're considering that some of these breweries already are financially struggling. So to ask them to spend money is pretty difficult right now.”

However, the foot traffic in downtown has dropped off due to the pandemic, with many people continuing to work remotely, and the majority of the sporting and music events and venues around the brewery postponed or cancelled. Intuition itself had a number of concerts planned for this spring and summer in it’s new Beer Hall, but is in the process of rescheduling them for next year.

And, it’s unclear what the Republican National Convention in late August will mean for businesses like Intuition, which is close to many of the planned convention venues.

“It seems like it's almost like a day to day,” Davis said. “You know, statements are made of what's going on so we're just kind of trying to keep up and stay in the loop the best we can. I mean, definitely being in the middle of it with our location is a little bit stressful not knowing, being concerned about you know, the safety of our employees, if our business is going to be interrupted, things like that. So that's definitely a concern. 

For now, Davis says the best way for people to support the city’s local breweries is to visit the breweries in their neighborhood and buy as much beer as possible from them.

Heather Schatz can be reached at hschatz@wjct.org or on Twitter at @heatherschatz.