Stone Brewing amendment near legislative approval

sjones@thesunnews.comMay 16, 2014 

Craft brews flow freely during the 3rd annual Beerfest at the Market Common. Four ounce tasting glasses are available for purchase at the entrance to the festival. The event, which features more than 120 beers, a variety of vendors and live music all weekend, is one in a series of beer and wine festivals held throughout the year in Valor Park.

MATT SILFER

The S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association and Anheuser Busch have stepped in separately to halt the progress of legislation that would allow Stone Brewing Co. to set up shop in South Carolina.

It could not be determined Friday what Anheuser Busch’s objection is, but the Beer Wholesalers said the legislation has been crafted incorrectly and would invite legal challenges.

The legislation has been placed in a conference committee of state House and Senate members so that differences can be ironed out, and Julie Cox, executive director of the association, said, “We have every intention of pushing this bill forward by the end of the session.”

She said the association has talked with the state Department of Commerce and the Economic Developers Association about changes that need to be made and is working with local craft brewers to write language that would resolve the Beer Wholesalers concerns.

State Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, said Friday he is 80 percent sure the legislation will gain legislative approval by the end of the session, which is within weeks.

The legislation increases the number of barrels brewpubs can produce and sell on-site from the current limit of 2,000 to 500,000 per year.

California-based Stone Brewing, the nation’s 10th largest craft brewer, said that it must have a bistro to serve its products on-site in the location where it builds its East Coast operation. It plans to eventually brew up to 550,000 barrels a year at the new location.

The move would involve an investment of more than $30 million and the creation of at least 250 jobs.

Horry County is among four South Carolina locations seeking to become the site of the new brewery, as are many other areas in the eastern U.S.

The legislation that contains the provision increasing the number of barrels a brewer can produce and still sell on-site was originally introduced in February as an amendment to a law relating to discounts on alcoholic beverages.

Edge said a section dealing with Stone Brewing’s requirements was added during the process of that bill moving through legislative chambers.

But it stalled before a second vote in the Senate.

“There’s some pushback,” said Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, who co-sponsored earlier legislation for increased production by brewpubs.

An identical bill to the one Hembree co-sponsored was introduced in the House, but neither was given much of a chance to pass in this session.

The current move has come as something of a surprise, but making the measure an amendment to a bill already moving through the legislature has overcome some obstacles.

“It’s still tough to pass something in the waning days,” Hembree said, “but we have a shot.”

Fred Richardson, chairman of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., had not heard of the bill before Friday.

“That would be a great thing,” he said of the renewed chance of the legislation.

The EDC has spearheaded Horry County’s bid for the brewery. A site at Broadway at the Beach has been identified as prime for the development should Stone choose to locate here.

While Horry County doesn’t have the direct interstate highway connections as other areas, it has 14 million tourists each year that could expand the brand’s recognition greatly.

Brad Lofton, EDC CEO, has said the Grand Strand’s heavy tourist traffic is a prime reason the company may locate here.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_sjones.

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