Set in Stone: South Carolina Beer Bill Signed Into Law

Last night, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law the so-called “Stone Bill,” which immediately lifts restrictions for the Palmetto State’s smaller beer companies and makes a number of key changes to the state’s current brewery license regulations.

The measure gives production breweries the ability to operate on-site restaurants that serve food and lifts consumption restrictions (from 48 oz. per customer) for production breweries that provide dining options. Companies operating under the new production brewery regulations would also be permitted to sell other beverage manufacturers’ beers, wines and ciders at their establishments. Additionally, production breweries will be allowed to obtain a retailing permit to sell bottles and cans on-site.

The new law also lets existing brewpubs convert their current permits to “brewery licenses,” and gives all brewpubs the right to sell their beer to wholesalers, for off-site distribution, after conversion. Brewpubs that choose to convert their licenses would lose the ability to sell liquor, however.

Currently, production breweries pay $400 annually for licensing while brewpubs pay $2,000 annually, said Brook Bristow, a lawyer with Bradford Neal Martin & Associates and general counsel to the South Carolina Brewers Association.

The new law does not alter current brewpub production regulations, however, which restrict owners from making more than 2,000 barrels annually. It also does not allow production breweries to pour more than 48 oz. of beer per customer if they are not also providing dining options. Bristow said that production breweries do not have to provide such options, or that they could come in the form of a full-service kitchen or via a third-party food truck service.

There is no limit to how much beer can be sold over a production brewery taproom bar, annually, and producers cannot hold both a brewpub and a production brewery license, Bristow said.

“Talk about an exciting day for our state and our brewers,” he said. “We had a great team behind us and it had a lot to do with the will of the legislators in South Carolina to get this done. There is a desire here to see craft beer flourish, to create jobs and to improve the economy in the state.”

Indeed, over the course of just one month, legislators met, discussed, voted and ultimately were able to make sweeping changes to South Carolina’s beer laws, all in an effort to entice out-of-state craft breweries like Stone Brewing and Deschutes Brewery, who are currently looking to expand with East Coast locations.

Bristow explained that the allure of attracting an out-of-state producer like Stone Brewing enabled the state to push the bill forward quickly, with little pushback from lobbyists.

“We wrote the bill in a specific way so that if Stone or Deschutes doesn’t come to South Carolina, it isn’t the end of the world,” he said. “We wanted it to benefit our in-state brewers, whether or not an out-of-state brewery comes in. And for future breweries looking to expand, South Carolina will at least be in the conversation. We are open for business and will support the craft beer industry.”

Stone Brewing has yet to make a final decision on where its East Coast brewery will be located. The Escondido, Calif.-based brewery said it plans to invest upwards of $30 million to build its new location and also estimates the project will create up to 400 jobs.

Prior to the bill being signed into law, Stone Brewing had offered praise for South Carolina’s reform efforts, but no guarantees; the brewery issued a statement last week noting that, “while we applaud the legislation in South Carolina and any like it, this necessary element is but one of many factored into our decision making laid out in our request for proposal.”

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