Anheuser-Busch Goes To War With South Carolina's "Brewpub Bill"

Earlier this year we explored some of South Carolina's excellent breweries during the Charleston Wine & Food festival. While SC certainly has some brews worth pining for, the state's biggest brewery buzz comes from Stone Brewing Company as plans for a SC-based brewery, complete with brewpub, are currently in the works. In the meantime, Stone is trying to help a bill pass allowing for a major increase in the way brewpubs operate.

Brewpubs are simply venues where beer is brewed and food is served. They offer the freshest beer possible, and hey, ever try doing a brewery tour on an empty stomach? Not a great idea. Brewpubs like Stone's World Bistro and Gardens (at their San Diego brewery) showcase their famous beers paired with excellent local cuisine, providing a thoroughly authentic experience. But, as is more and more prevalent, the effort to expand these establishments has been met with opposition from beer giant Anheuser-Busch, which could delay the bill's passage or even prevent it altogether.

As of 2012, South Carolina employed nearly 3,000 brewery workers with brewery sales resulting in a $254 million impact on the state's economy. A $31 million expansion would offer a huge boost to these numbers, adding another 400 jobs and millions more to the state's economy. Part of the reason South Carolina hasn't experienced the growth seen in their neighbors to the North, where Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues have East Coast breweries, is because current laws in SC restrict on-premise consumption for breweries, limit to-go beer to growlers only (no bottles or cans allowed) and cap brewpub production at a paltry 2,000 barrels per year.

The new bill, affectionately dubbed the "Stone Bill" would allow for an increase of yearly barrels to over 500,000 for brewpubs – essentially allowing brewpubs and breweries to combine their mighty forces. If passed, Stone could open its SC brewery with an East Coast version of Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. It would also allow for brewpubs to sell and distribute bottles as well — excellent news for collectors.

Although the bill has already passed in the House, in a move that surprises nobody, Anheuser-Busch swooped in at the 11th hour via their legal team, who is sending letters to state senators on their behalf.

AB doesn't hold anything back, advising that they have "some serious concerns about one of the amendments added by the House which is intended to make SC a more amenable environment for craft brewers, in particular Stone Brewing Company." More specifically, they imply the new legislation would be detrimental to the current three-tier system for alcohol distribution — instead of brewery to distributor to storefront, the amended law would effectively eliminate the middleman. The letter even goes as far to say "Anheuser-Busch's belief is that everyone should play by the same rules," and brings to light that Stone would need 400 employees to make 500,000 barrels when a local AB plant needs just 250 employees to produce 8.5 million. Read the full letter here.

While big beer lobbying to cover their own backside is nothing out of the ordinary, crying foul against a craft brewery with just 6% of one AB plant's yearly output shows how craft breweries are turning out to be more than a hoppy little thorn in big beer's side. If you would like to write to any of the state senators on behalf of the Stone Bill (H. 3512) visit the SC Beer Jobs Website.

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