Hope fading for Stone Brewing Co. in Myrtle Beach

sjones@thesunnews.comApril 16, 2014 

South Carolina’s chance may be fading fast to snag a large California craft brewer seeking to start a new operation on the East Coast.

Stone Brewing Co. would need a change in state law to allow it to brew and sell at the same location, as it has said it plans to do in requests for proposals from areas that want the brewery that would employ more than 250 people.

The brewery would include an adjoining store and bistro that would serve food and beer. Myrtle Beach economic developers had proposed that the facility be located across the street from Broadway at the Beach, which would put it alongside its 14 million tourists each year and close to S.C. 31.

But state legislators have yet to file a bill to allow the operation, and according to The Post and Courier, legislation is now in the drafting stage.

The legislation would redefine a brewpub as an operation that produced up to 500,000 barrels of beer a year. Currently brewpubs, which can brew and sell at the same location, are limited to a year output of 2,000 barrels.

With May 1 the deadline to move legislation from one chamber to the other so it can be passed this year, some think the change is unlikely in this legislative session.

“To get it done this year could be an impossible challenge,” said Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.

He and Jimmy Yahnis, a former chairman of the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association, noted that it is likely that legislation could be drafted and passed by the legislature by the time it would take the company to construct a new operation in South Carolina.

But Lofton doubted Stone Brewing would commit nearly $30 million to a South Carolina brewery without a law in place.

Lofton said officials at the state Department of Commerce knew of the limitation when the company first announced in March that it was seeking proposals from new locations. He said that they talked about it with Stone Brewing and thought it optimistic that the company still welcomed proposals from the state.

He said that Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, offered to sponsor legislation. Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, said Wednesday he is not part of the effort drafting the legislation.

Neither Clemmons nor the commerce department could be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Department of Commerce told Lofton it would handle the legislation, and he moved on to other tasks at hand.

Lofton said under current state law, the company could brew locally, buy its own beer from an independent distributor and resell it on the same site as the brewery, but he didn’t believe that was feasible.

Yahnis said the legislation would also put large breweries such as Stone Brewing beyond a state law that requires alcoholic spirits to sit in a distributor’s warehouse for 72 hours before they can be moved to a retail operation. But the beer wholesalers don’t plan to try to block the change in the law.

“It’s a complicated issue,” he said.

Stone spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo would not say when the company plans to make a decision on the East Coast brewery, The Post and Courier reported. But she told The Post and Courier that the company has not encouraged states to amend their laws to accommodate the brewery.

“We haven't been involved in that directly. We haven't had talks with lawmakers,” LoPiccolo said. “The ability to meet our site guidelines and what we're looking for in a community are the first areas that we're looking at.”

While Stone Brewing Co. may have dropped from the area’s economic development picture, Lofton said the MBREDC is courting another brewer as well.

It’s operation would be large like that of Stone Brewing, but Lofton said it has not expressed desire for an on-site retail operation. He wouldn’t name the company.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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