Governor Nikki Haley held a ceremonial signing on Wednesday for a bill that brewers in South Carolina say will dramatically expand their business.
The bill was known to legislators and South Carolina’s small, thriving craft beer industry as the “Stone Law” when it passed back in May. The bill eased many Prohibition-era regulations on breweries and was pushed by lawmakers such as State Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, as a way to make the South Carolina more appealing to California-based Stone Brewing Company as the company considered sites for a new East Coast brewery.
Stone eventually decided to choose another state for its brewery, but Bennett said South Carolina’s 20 breweries are already taking advantage of the law.
“Initially, it was probably thought of by the public as being something to attract large, new business to the state, which certainly it does,” he said during the ceremony at Conquest Brewing in Columbia. “But this bill has helped our existing industry, our existing business right here in South Carolina.”
Among other changes, the law eliminates a previous ban on breweries serving food. A loophole in the old law allowed restaurants to brew alcohol, but limited them to no more than 2,000 barrels per year in sales, effectively keeping “brewpubs” from selling their beer in stores. The new law eliminated those restrictions and allow breweries to manufacture up to 500,000 barrels per year. For perspective, South Carolina’s largest breweries currently distribute only about three percent of that amount.
North Charleston-based Holy City Brewing is the first company to take advantage of the law, opening a small kitchen at its taproom last month. Breweries can serve up to three pints per visitor on location, but that cap is eliminated once the taproom is permitted to serve food. Holy City brewer Chris Brown said the new kitchen allows the company to take advantage with its estimated 1,000 customers per week.
“Beforehand, we’d be five-deep at the bar and it looked really busy,” Brown told South Carolina Radio Network. “But it was really just… trying to explain to everybody why they were only able to drink a certain amount and having to put a wristband on and track what they were drinking.”
The new permit also allows Holy City to serve beer brewed at other locations, another first under the changed law.
Gov. Haley cited the impact on homegrown breweries during Wednesday’s ceremony and downplayed Stone Brewing’s role in the bill’s passage.
“This bill was not about pitching Stone Brewery. That would have been a nice complement to it. This was about taking care of the businesses we already have first — that’s really the focus of every piece of legislation that should come across the desk,” she said after signing the bill. “If we would’ve gotten Stone Brewery, sure, that would have been another one to add to our 20. But we are very proud of the 20 that we have.”