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Two new Florida laws can get you easier access to booze

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last call has a new spin for craft distilleries in the sunshine state.

Previously distillers could not serve cocktails, despite having the supply on hand to do so.

“This looks like a bar. It feels like a bar,” David Cohen, President of Manifest Distiller in Downtown Jacksonville, said. He mimicked the repetitive question he received from customers, “‘What you mean I can’t have a cocktail?’ We’ve been here five to six years, explaining to people we can’t service cocktails.”

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Per Florida law, Manifest and other distilleries in the state were not allowed to make mixed drinks. The businesses could provide liquor tastings, sell bottle to-go, and distribute spirits to companies.

Newly signed law, Senate Bill 46, opened the door for distillers, allowing them to make and serve cocktails on the premise. Cohen said this change will boost revenue, add jobs, and help businesses hit by the pandemic.

“There was about 30 to 45 days or so where we shutdown [in 2020] to try and figure out what was going on. Our revenue was obviously affected,” Cohen said. “This [new law] is a blessing. This will be great for us.”

All cocktails must be made with spirits or liquor produced on site.

“If we wanted to make a drink with Vermouth in it, or any kind of a modifier that has alcohol or something, We have to make it,” Cohen said. “So it’s kind of a fun challenge.”

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The new law had some minor push back.

Jacksonville Republican Representative Clay Yarborough cast the only ‘no’ vote against the bill. Action News Jax reporter Meghan Moriarty reached out to his office on Monday, asking for an interview. She followed up Tuesday, twice, via email. Moriarty received a reply saying the representative had ‘no comment’ on the subject.

Another alcohol-based law will also take effect Thursday. Senate Bill 148, inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Governor Ron DeSantis issued emergency resolution in March of 2020 forcing restaurants to close, but allowing businesses to sell alcohol to-go for the first time ever. More than a year later, DeSantis signed the Senate bill in May of 2021 allowing authorized food service establishments to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages. On July 1, it officially became state law.

There’s a catch. This is limited to restaurants whose sales are at least 51% food. The drink must be sold in a sealed container. The customer must put the beverage in the back seat of their vehicle, out of reach of the driver. And, once the kitchen closes for the night, to-go alcohol sales are suspended.

“There’s just, there’s a buzz about it,” Cohen said. No pun intended. “It’ll be great--not just for downtown Jacksonville-- but for a lot of small communities across Florida.”

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