Stone Brewing Co. won’t be coming to South Carolina, but some in the beer business still are celebrating.
Though the Palmetto State didn’t land the California-based brewer’s planned East Coast operation, the chance of luring Stone Brewing here led to changes in state law that brewers say opens the door for the already booming industry nationally to grow even more in South Carolina.
“It was an opportunity for the craft brewers to get some changes done in the law,” said Julie Cox, executive director of the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association. “We weren’t crafting it just for Stone. We’d like to see the industry grow. We are hoping it will bring in some more breweries.”
The new law – which was dubbed the Stone bill as it worked its way through the legislature in the spring – allows breweries to produce an unlimited amount of beer and also operate on-site restaurants that serve food.
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Stone said about 10 days ago that South Carolina was no longer in the running for its East Coast expansion. Experts say South Carolina would have never been a consideration if the state had not approved the bill – which Gov. Nikki Haley signed in early June – because the laws wouldn’t allow Stone to set up the restaurant, garden, store and other features that the company wanted to create.
Though local breweries applaud the new law, don’t expect to see them rushing to expand or change their operations right now.
New South Brewing in Myrtle Beach is consumed with just keeping up with the surging demand for its beers such as White Ale and Nut Brown.
“We are not doing anything right away with [the new law],” said David Epstein, owner and brewmaster at New South, which produces about 3,000 barrels a year at its building off Campbell Street in Myrtle Beach and has experienced double-digit growth in sales in the last couple of years. “The bar has really blown up for us. It’s all we can do to keep up right now.”
Some of the growth Epstein attributes to changes in state laws regarding breweries in recent years, including the pint bill last year that allows brewers to sell beer on-site. He expects the same for craft breweries in South Carolina with the latest changes brought by the Stone bill.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said standing in the brewery with towers of New South cans behind him. “It’s just opening up more and more free enterprise. Even though it doesn’t affect us right now, it is a step in the right direction for brewers in South Carolina.”
Quigley’s Pint and Plate in Pawleys Island isn’t considering any changes either, but also applauded the state’s new brewery law.
“This change in law is positive for the beer business in South Carolina,” said Josh Quigley, an owner of Quigley’s. “It allows more opportunities for people. Our laws were very, very limiting. They have loosened up.”
Craft beer is booming across the country and growing in South Carolina, which has about 20 craft breweries and where about 46,900 barrels of craft beer were produced in 2013, according to the national Brewers Association. Nationally, craft beer sales hit $14.3 billion in 2013, up 20 percent growth.
Some SC breweries already are taking advantage of the new law. Palmetto Brewing Co. in Charleston already was expanding with a kitchen for special events when the law passed, but it adjusted the plan to also include the brewery’s first gift shop, where visitors will be able to fill up growlers or purchase six-packs of Palmetto brews, which wasn’t allowed at breweries before the new law passed, according to The Post and Courier.
“When we found out about the bill, and it thankfully passed, we were in a great position to take advantage of it,” General Manager John Planty told the Charleston newspaper. “It’s amazing good timing.”
The S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association predicts some breweries will expand as a result of the new law, but Cox doesn’t yet know how many.
“It’s too soon to tell right now,” Cox said. “Everybody is interested and will be watching to see.”