South Carolina’s “Stone Bill” in Committee, Looks Promising

flag-28558_640Today, we wanted to tip our hats to (and cross our fingers for) all our friends over in South Carolina. In recent weeks, craft beer supporters have come out in droves to encourage changes to the state’s restrictive beverage laws. What has become known as the “Stone Bill” has made it to committee and, with all the energy around it, seems poised to make it on through the Senate and House, too, putting South Carolina among the ranks of progressive beer-law states.

So, what’s the Stone Bill all about? Let’s dive into it. However, we’ll note that there’s very recent news coverage on the matter here, and our good friend and fellow beer lawyer Brook Bristow is providing timely coverage and answers to questions on Twitter here, in addition to all his excellent coverage on his “Beer of SC” blog. Check it out here.

Now, the story. Not too long ago, brewing giant Stone from Escondido, California announced plans to make a major $31 million investment somewhere on the East Coast. Stone’s announcement follows on the heels of major East Coast operations investments from places like Colorado’s New Belgium and Oskar Blues as well as California’s Sierra Nevada, all of which selected North Carolina as their respective East Coast home bases. South Carolina brewers have already been interested in making changes to the state’s restrictive laws, but what better time to make a big push than when a potential $31 million investment and the ballpark of 250 new jobs could be on the line? If there’s any way to entice legislators to make changes on the hurry, this is it.

Rallying around the prospect of joining their neighbor state’s success in landing these big-out-of-state investments, South Carolina brewers have made it clear to legislators—and onlookers—that brewing already generates lots of jobs and income to the state, and with some changes, could draw exponentially more.

Now, here’s the essence of how South Carolina’s beer laws currently work. With regulations stemming from the Prohibition era, South Carolina forces would-be brewers into two categories dubbed Brewpubs and Breweries. First, Brewpubs. Prospective brewery owners can choose to be a Brewpub where they can serve up food but also their swill, selling customers pints and carryout growlers with only two big limitations: they can’t produce more than 2,000 barrels per year and they can’t engage in off-site distribution. Contrast this scheme with the second option. As a non-Brewpub Brewery, you can engage in significant production, seriously surpassing that 2,000 barrel cap of Brewpub brethren, but you’re super limited in your direct-to-consumer sales. (You can sell no more than 288 ounces per day of carryout brew to a potential consumer and, thanks at least to a recent change, you can serve up pints, but no more than three per consumer, per day.)

As you can see, South Carolina’s existing laws don’t create the friendliest environment for homegrown brewers to take up shop, and they certainly wouldn’t accommodate Stone’s business proposal, excerpted below but in full text here:

“In 2014 Stone Brewing Co. intends to identify the site for and begin work on our new Eastern US facility. . . . Our operations facility will feature a full-production brewery, packaging and distribution operations . . . which will serve to produce beer to be distributed in the Midwest to East Coast Boundaries as well as for export. Our Stone World Bistro & Gardens, retail and potential other operations will follow.”

The bottom line is, to land Stone, South Carolina would have to make major revisions to its existing beer laws. Fortunately, Brook and other advocates have helped legislators step up to the task. In committee right now is a bill that would bring South Carolina into step with other progressive beer-law states. Most notably, the bill would up Brewpub production limits from 2,000 barrels a year to 500,000, while finally bestowing much-wanted access to wholesale distribution.

Will passage of the Stone Bill ultimately land South Carolina Stone? No, it’s not a guarantee, though Stone certainly has to be aware of the red carpet South Carolina has been hustling to prepare for the brewery’s potential arrival. Is anyone else working this hard to land them? But, at any rate, it doesn’t really matter. More big-time breweries will eventually be looking Eastward and, maybe most importantly, with passage of this bill, South Carolina legislators have the opportunity to prime their business climate for huge homegrown growth—an absolute home run, no matter what Stone decides to do.

We’ve tipped our hats, and now we’ll tip our glasses. Cheers to Brook and to all the people who have been working tirelessly to make South Carolina a great place to be in the brewing business.

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