Columbia Free Times

Brewpub Expansion Bill Sent Back to Committee

By Tug Baker
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 |
Another week, another big round of back and forth over the Stone Bill: As you may remember from last week’s column, the so-called Stone Bill — which would allow brewpubs to sell their beer to distributors, potentially luring large craft breweries like Stone Brewing to the state — was attached to H.3512, another alcohol bill designed to allow alcohol retailers to use coupons, and passed by a huge margin of 84-4 in the House of Representatives. The bill was then held up and returned to a conference committee once it hit the Senate floor following concerns brought up by the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association and Anheuser-Busch.

An email sent to senators by Amanda Wuenscher, an attorney at Mike Daniel & Associates, which represents Anheuser-Busch, got a lot of attention for putting a halt to the bill. In the email, Wuenscher wrote that Anheuser-Busch believed that the current three-tier distribution system — which separates alcohol producers, distributors, and retailers — would potentially be eroded by the Stone Bill because it would blur the line between brewpubs and craft breweries, giving them what Anheuser-Busch considers “a competitive advantage over other brewers, distributors and even retailers.” In one section of the email that supporters of the Stone Bill found especially inciting, Wuenscher claimed that the hundreds of jobs Stone Bill supporters say could be created in South Carolina couldn’t possibly be accurate, because Anheuser-Busch’s Williamsburg brewery only employs 250 full-time and part-time workers and it makes 8.5 million barrels of year as opposed to Stone’s limited 500,000. Supporters of the Stone Bill rallied after this email with a renewed effort through the scbeerjobs.com website, urging people to contact the conference committee members to show support for creating South Carolina jobs through this bill.

South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association Chairman Jim Kirkham sent a letter to state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, the General Assembly and the governor last Friday urging changes to the bill, also citing concerns about changes to the three-tier distribution system. Kirkham wrote, “Unlike we have been portrayed, we do not base our opposition on controlling or inhibiting small brewers from expanding their business model, and we do not impede economic progress in South Carolina. … Three-tier laws level the playing field for small brewers to get to market without discrimination, fostering the well-deserved and growing market presence and share small brewers are experiencing.”

The conference committee met last Wednesday for about an hour and will publish its report to the House and Senate Tuesday, May 27, after Free Times goes to press. This means that by the time you read this article, the bill may have passed, passed with changes, or been shot down. Visit
free-times.com for updates.

Let us know what you think: Email food@free-times.com.

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Il Giorgione
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