Southeastern States Vie for Stone Brewing

Southeastern states are vying for the attention of Stone Brewing Co. with both song and legislative dance in hopes that the brewery, out of Escondido, Calif., will plant its Eastern facility in their respective backyards.

In a request for proposals issued earlier this month, Stone detailed plans to identify and begin working on a new brewery east of the Mississippi River to more easily serve suppliers and consumers throughout the Eastern half of the country. Initial production at the facility is expected to surpass 120,000 barrels and “eventually scale to nearly 500,000.” By year four, the brewery expects revenues to top $100 million and to reach hundreds of millions over time.

The prospect of all this was music to the ears of business leaders in Blount County, Tenn., who responded to the brewery’s RFP with a song of their own. Literally.

Singer/songwriter Matt Honkonen wrote “People of Stone,” and “A Stone in East Tennessee,” a pair of love letter country tunes dedicated the country’s 10th biggest craft brewery.

“I may be out of my head and many miles from my home,” sings Honkonen. “But you can keep your Miller and Your Bud, ‘cause I’ve found a Stone.”

But it’ll take more than a serenade to lure the brewers of Ruination IPA and Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Jeff Muir, communications director with Blount County Partnership, a business development organization that supports existing businesses in the area and recruits others, said Stone would be “a great asset” for Blount County.

“There’s no better location to do it than here in the base of the Smoky Mountains,” said Muir. “Our region’s full range of water and energy and transportation and our great beer culture, quality of life — it kind of speaks to what craft brewers, the people that run that industry, what they want and what they need.”

This isn’t the county’s first stab at bringing a major craft player to town. Blount County also took a run at Sierra Nevada before that brewery ultimately decided to break ground on a facility in Asheville, N.C..

“We we’re very close. It came down to the very end,” he said. But now it’s all about Stone.

Muir said his county touts the perfect location for Stone in Pellissippi Place, a business park located near the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

That particular amenity might pique the brewery’s interest.

In Stone’s RFP, COO Pat Tiernan wrote that the company hopes to establish relationships with nearby universities to both engage talent and industry development as well as provide student internships and potential research initiatives.

But there are obstacles, like a Tennessee state law that caps alcohol by weight in ‘beer’ at 5 percent (6.2 percent ABV). While Stone’s latest release, Go To IPA, clocks in at a sessionable 4.5 percent, most of its well-established brands, like the aforementioned Ruination and Arrogant Bastard, check in a bit heavier.

“We’re actually working vigorously with the state legislature in trying to raise the beer level here,” said Muir. “We’ve had a good track record of changing legislation and improving it for craft brewers.”

Worst-case scenario, said Muir, is Stone lands elsewhere, but with its prior ploy for Sierra, the county’s intentions are clear.

“If nothing comes of it, at least we got our name out there as, ‘Hey, we’re actively seeking to bring a high-end, high-barrel production facility to this area.’”

Greensboro, N.C., is another potential suitor.

Roughly 2 1/2 hours from Asheville — where Sierra Nevada has set up shop and where New Belgium is on the way — the Greensboro Partnership Economic Development (GPED) is also trying to entice Stone, touting a great location, logistic capabilities and manufacturing history.

On top of that, the presence of other heavy hitters in the state shows that the area is rife with demand.

“Stone Brewing would be a great project for the area and a great fit for the region and in the state,” said Cyndi Dancy, vice president of GPED. “In the state, the craft brewing industry is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Recently, an update to the city’s land development ordinance was passed by the city council to allow for microbreweries to operate downtown. The change in law came at the request of Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Co., according to Yes Weekly, which sought to “adjust the definition of brewpubs and microbreweries in order to expand their use in commercial and other mixed-use zoning areas.”

“I would say that we are supportive to craft brewing,” added Dancy, “and I think a lot of groups are looking at how [to be] more supportive.”

She doesn’t think the nearby presence of New Belgium or Sierra would be a problem either.

“It would be fabulous,” she said, of the state playing host to all three companies. “Our local citizens are excited about the prospect of having them here.”

The organization is working on a proposal that calls for suggesting locations where Stone could settle down.

Dancy said the GPED is in contact with a variety of people, including developers and landowners, to figure out where the project would make the most sense.

In Alabama, lawmakers are working on amending legislation that would serve to accommodate a bigger craft brewer like Stone as well. Two bills — HB 581 and SB 439 — seek to make brewers of a certain size exempt from aspects of the three-tier regulations in the state. Sen. Dick Brewbaker and Rep. April Weaver, the sponsors of each bill, could not be reached for comment as of press time, though Brewbaker told AL.com that “five or six” counties had brought up “an opportunity” in the brewing industry to him.

He would not confirm whether that was Stone.

The bills, however, are worded to serve businesses that produce at least 25,000 barrels, which the Alabama Brewers Guild said effectively cuts out “all existing Alabama breweries in an effort to entice larger businesses.”

As such, they are opposed to the bill — but say they would support it if it were more inclusive.

Jason Wilson, president of the ABG and founder of Back Forty Beer Co. said he believes the legislation was “absolutely inspired” by Stone.

Though with its opposition to the bills, Wilson was clear to say craft brewers in the state would welcome the brewery with open arms.

“Given the collaborative nature of our industry, we absolutely see Stone as an ally and we would love to see them in the state of Alabama,” said Wilson.