As I write this column, the Stone Bill is sitting on the governor’s desk waiting to be signed into law after passing through both the House and Senate last week.
As you may remember, the Stone Bill itself was originally proposed to increase the 2,000-barrel cap on brewpubs and allow them to distribute their beer; it had a quick run through the S.C. House, but last week went before a conference committee to iron out some details following concerns from beer wholesalers.
Smoothing out these differences was achieved by moving the focus from allowing brewpubs to behave more like breweries and instead allowing breweries to behave more like brewpubs. Under the compromise bill, breweries can choose to offer food service. Doing so will mean that in their food service areas, they will be able to serve more than the current 48-ounce limit for brewery tasting rooms as well as serve wine and beer from other breweries (provided they are bought through a distributor, of course). This means that if a current brewpub would like to distribute its beer, it would just need to change its license to a brewery license. If it does not wish to distribute, it can stay licensed as a brewpub and be limited to the 2,000-barrel cap.
As often is the case with these things, there are still a few questions that people are eager for answers to, including what exactly constitutes food service. Will a full-scale kitchen (and the large investment that represents) be required, or will a microwave and freezer full of Hot Pockets suffice? According to a comment on his beerofsc.com blog, attorney Brook Bristow says the wording in the bill that finally passed makes food service “much more feasible for existing breweries” than it was initially.
The other big question is — did it work? Is a big brewery like Stone now really going to set up shop here? The Sun News reports that a spokesperson for Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery said it plans to take another look at South Carolina if it ever decided to expand. According to Sen. Luke Rankin, a South Carolina Stone Brewery is a sure thing at this point, but Stone hasn’t made any such announcement. While neither of those is anything close to a done deal, they’re both possibilities that didn’t exist before this bill passed.
Meanwhile, in hyperlocal brewery news, this Friday sees Columbia’s first production brewery, Conquest, holding a tap takeover at Greene’s on Piney Grove with lots of fun one-off brews including four new sours. Also, Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company has obtained its license to brew, making it the third production brewery in Columbia. Congrats, guys!
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