Florida brewers beg governor for help to allow customers back

At Riverview's Leaven Brewing, there's a beer for every palate.

"Riverview's living room is kind of how we see it," said owner Jillian Lynch.

Tuesday afternoon, Lynch and her husband KJ cheerfully greeted loyal customers as they came in and out, picking up orders to go. Though it's not currently on tap, there's some frustration brewing, too.

"In an economy where I shouldn't be spending any money because we are losing it hand over fist, I am expected to open a food truck in order to serve beer," Lynch said.

Many Florida breweries like Leaven Brewing are in a tough spot, forced to sustain their businesses on to-go orders. Only breweries with certain food licenses can open for on-site consumption.

Tuesday, hundreds of breweries and their supporters posted a letter to the governor on social media, urging the state to work with them and to allow them to open for on-site consumption.

Florida bars had just been allowed to reopen with limited occupancy June 5, but three weeks later, with rising COVID-19 cases, establishments with more than 50% of sales from alcohol were forced by the state to stop selling drinks on-site. Friday, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation renewed that decision.

Halsey Beshears, secretary of the DBPR, said on Friday, “When people congregate in large groups, in close quarters, they drink too much. They tend to get inebriated and their inhibitions are lowered. We know for a fact that when that happens, the virus spreads like wildfire.”

Beshears said he didn't expect much to change until case numbers go down. "These numbers have to stop climbing, it has to flatten, and then there has to be a decrease in that positivity number," he said.

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It was a gut punch for hundreds of Florida brewers. "You could quickly see, throughout the community, that it was as if people were staring at their businesses' future gravestone," said Matthew Dahm, owner of Mastry's Brewing Co. in St. Pete Beach.

So, the Florida Brewers Guild crafted a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and Beshears, asking for help and saying, "We are likely to lose more than 100 breweries permanently if this continues for more than 2 weeks... and with that, nearly a third of the 10,000 jobs supported by our industry."

Tuesday morning at 11:30, hundreds posted the letter online at the same time.

"We are more than a drinking establishment," Dahm said. "We are a manufacturer, we are a retailer, we report to the state, we report to the federal government, we report to the Department of Health."

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The brewers have united their message across Florida, asking the state to at least offer them realistic criteria, under which they can operate, as well as the chance to allow some customers back in.

"We would really like it best to have an opportunity to operate, really, in the same fashion as restaurants are," Dahm said.

In the meantime, some brewers are taking steps to get food licenses; one of their best chances to get profits back up. Lynch remains grateful for the support they continue to get from the community which is keeping them afloat.

"Now, our hand is being forced," Lynch said. 'We have to open that food concept, and now, ipso facto, I'm being required to be paying more dues and taxes to the state in doing so, and those are not monies I have to spend."

FOX 13 News reached out to Governor DeSantis as well as the DBPR for their responses to the letter. We have not heard back.