Craft beer brewers see a cloudy future

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Brewers logoThe Florida Brewers Guild has sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Halsey Beshears, Department of Business and Professional Regulation secretary, asking for their help in putting together a plan that would allow more craft brewers to reopen. According to the letter, most of the 320 small brewers are offering their products only for takeout after the governor shut down on-premise consumption in bars in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases. Some brewpubs that serve food are allowed to remain open with limited occupancy, as are most restaurants.

The letter, signed simply “All members of the Florida Craft Brewing Industry,” states that more than 100 brewers will close within two weeks and approximately 3000 people will lose their jobs.

Sean Nordquist, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, said the two-week time frame represents the current mandate for bars to be closed to on-premise consumption, and the number of businesses that will close is an estimate based on internal polling and observations of what’s happening to brewers in other states.

He said the organization has not had a response from the governor or the secretary but he was sure they were aware of the letter.

Nordquist also expressed frustration that restaurants that serve alcohol are allowed to be open but bars and craft brewers that do not serve food cannot. “Simply having a food license doesn’t make a place any safer than a business that doesn’t,” he said.

Still, some brewers and bar owners are scrambling to obtain food licenses that would allow them to reopen under the technicality.

Brent Hernandez of Redlight Redlight said Friday that he was trying to get a food license for his Orlando brewery. Previously, he had partnered with food trucks that would park in front of his business. People would order food from the truck and take it inside Redlight to eat it with a beer. (Often, the food truck operator would bring the food inside and serve it, just like at a restaurant.) But that doesn’t meet the state’s current requirements.

Nordquist said he sees three possible outcomes over the next two weeks: Another total shutdown of all businesses; a return to the phase two reopening guidelines, which would allow bars to be open for on-premise consumption; or a “compromise somewhere in the middle” that would allow all responsible business owners taking proper precautions to operate.