Will Palmetto State lawmakers overhaul outdated brewpub regulations?

The so-called "Stone Bill" - which would essentially overhaul the law that regulates how brewpubs operate in South Carolina - passed in both chambers of the S.C. legislature and is on its way to Gov. Nikki Haley to be signed in to law. Just few weeks ago, most thought that the bill didn't have a chance of passing before the legislature takes recess for the summer. But the bill gained steam, passing overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives, and then the brakes were temporarily applied as the bill was sent to conference committee for ironing out.

The extra time allowed the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association (which represents the beer distributors) and even AB InBev (the multi-national conglomerate that owns Budweiser and many other brands) to plead their cases to lawmakers. They were opposed to language in the bill that they thought would erode the current post-prohibition three-tier system of beer distribution.

When the new language of the bill was introduced to the rest of legislature on Tuesday, it was revealed that a compromise had been struck with the beer distributors’ group that didn’t water down the bill. The final language of the bill went up for a vote Wednesday and passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. The last step for the bill will be when it reaches the Governor’s desk for her signature. It is expected to be signed into law by the time legislators recesses on June 5.

So, what does the compromise do? It essentially gets done everything craft beer-boosters had hoped for – it increases the amount of beer a brewpub can brew – from 2,000 barrels per year to 500,000 barrels, and allows brewpubs to distribute their beers for retail sales. But, they’ll have to become licensed as a production brewery to do it.

The proposed changes in the law have been moved over to the codes that regulate how production breweries operate. So, a brewpub will need to switch licenses to become a production brewery if it wants to participate in increased production and retail sales. Also, breweries in S.C. can be licensed to serve food and won’t have a cap on on-premises beer consumption.

Simply said, the law will work to give existing breweries more freedom to boost on-premises sales, it will allow existing brewpubs the chance to change their licenses, and it will open the door to large breweries looking to relocate to the Palmetto state.

Does this mean that Stone Brewing will definitely pick South Carolina for its East Coast location? No – the brewery issued a statement applauding the law change, but has many other factors to consider before making a final decision. Either way, it will be a great change for our state’s beer laws.

New South New Beer

We stopped by New South Brewing on May 21 to sample some of the Myrtle Beach brewery’s new barrel-aged brews. The first pour I got was the appropriately named Redrum, which is the Red Ale, aged in a rum barrel. The moderately hoppy red ale is a bit more subdued after a few months in the barrel, and the rum characteristics work to make the beer more complex. At around 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s an easy drinker that delivers some big flavor.

Next up was the bourbon barrel-aged stout. The base beer has a lot of the same characteristics as New South’s imperial stout – Lily the Great, but with about half the alcohol content. Despite its moderate gravity, New South Stout has a big roasty taste – think coffee, some chocolate and maybe a bit of toast. The bourbon barrel treatment adds a new layer of complexity – showcasing a touch of oak and vanilla. The bourbon barrel-aged stout is a well-balanced brew – not too sweet or too dry, not too boozy and not too thin. If you’d like to try these two fantastic beers, you won’t find them around town. You’ll need to visit the brewery and purchase pints and growler fills in the tasting room.

But you will be able to find a new New South summer seasonal soon at bars, restaurants and growler stations around town. The new beer was inspired by the success of the Dry-hopped Lager, as well as the nationwide trend towards lower alcohol, big flavored beers – known as session beers, because you can drink several in a “session.”

New South’s version is called “Summer Session,” and is described as a light-colored and light-bodied ale, heavily hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Falconers Flight – a blend of citrusy American hops. A batch of kegs of the new beer is headed to distributors and should be available around town soon. If you don’t see it at your favorite watering hole, make sure and ask the management to request it when they put in their next beer order.

Upcoming Events

The May meeting for the Myrtle Beach Area Society of Homebrewers (MASH), is this Friday at Liberty Brewery & Grill at Broadway at the Beach. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in the bar area and the group will nominate new club officers for 2014-2015. The meeting is open to the public, and those wishing to join the ranks can pay the $20 yearly dues. So come out, enjoy some beers, meet some folks, and support the home brewing community in Myrtle Beach.

June 5 is the Brooklyn Brewery Tap Takeover at the Crafty Rooster in historic downtown Conway. All 14 of the popular beer bar’s taps will be dedicated to Brooklyn Brewery beers and the first 40 customers will take home a Brooklyn Brewery pint glass.

June 6 is the inaugural Coastal Uncorked Brews’N the Boulevard Craft Beer Event at Plyler Park. The event is from 5-9 p.m. and will feature samples of top craft beers, a peformance by The Revival, and food vendors. Advance tickets are $15 each or $25 for couples and are available online at Day-of event tickets are $25 each.