South Carolina Reaches "Stone Bill" Deal, Anheuser-Busch Eats Lobbying Suds

Excellent news regarding South Carolina's Brewpub bill, affectionately dubbed the "Stone Bill." To recap, the bill is a landmark for brewery legislation in South Carolina. The original bill was aimed at allowing brewpubs to increase their yearly output from 2,000 to 500,000 barrels as well as provide a license to distribute their beer more widely. That last bit caused a great deal of controversy — Anheuser-Busch sent legal representatives to lobby Senators against the bill. But the bill passed in both the Senate and House by a combined vote of 139-1 (always gotta have one hater) and currently awaits the signature of South Carolina Governer Nikki Haley to be laid into law.

Once the original bill passed through South Carolina's House of Representatives, the push was on to pass it through the Senate before the General Assembly's summer break on June 5. Things really heated up yesterday in a joint legislative conference committee meeting, which resulted in changes to the brewery part of the bill, though brewpub language will remain the same. Under the compromise, brewpubs won't be able to distribute beer themselves but will have the opportunity to upgrade to a brewery license to gain distribution rights through a wholesaler, thus keeping the three-tier distribution system intact. Additionally, breweries that produce up to 500,000 barrels per year will now be given the option of opening a restaurant on-site. These brewpubs will also be allowed to sell bottles on-site as well as have guest taps, as is done at Stone's World Bistro and Gardens at their San Diego location.

Although this is a huge win for SC breweries and craft-beer drinkers (not to mention a loss despite AB's lobbying efforts), some restrictions do apply. No liquor will be allowed at brewery restaurants (but who the heck needs a gin and tonic when you have all that delicious beer?). Pricing will also be regulated to be in-line with local retailer prices, so bigger breweries won't be able to sell suds at a ridiculous discount to gain competitive advantage. Any on-site restaurants would also have to follow the schedule for closing, so you wouldn't be able to hit the brewery for late-night brews after the bars close. Other than those rules, almost all the positive changes requested by craft brewers in the original bill will come to pass.

It's worth reiterating that despite the bill's nickname, Stone Brewing Company has not yet committed to building a brewery in South Carolina. The name of the bill is based purely on the assumption that it would allow Stone or Deschutes or any other brewery west of the Mississippi to build a fully functioning brewpub which would also serve as their East Coast brewery. Even without any major brewery ready to commit at this time, the impact from increased distribution and brewery tourism for local breweries will be massive. You can read the full recap written by Brook Bristow, General Counsel to the South Carolina Brewers Association, on the Beer of SC website.

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