Stone Brewing possibility revived with bill introduction

A bill has been introduced in the S.C. General Assembly that gives hope to the Grand Strand’s effort to lure a large California craft brewer to a site near Broadway at the Beach.

The bill, co-sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, redefines brewpubs as operations that produce up to 500,000 barrels of beer per year, rather than a limit of 2,000 barrels per year in the current law.

If passed, the legislation would allow Stone Brewing Co. to brew beer locally in a new South Carolina brewery and also sell it in a bistro the company plans to have as part of its operation.

Stone Brewing says on its website that the East Coast brewery would plan to manufacture 100,000 barrels of beer the first year, a figure that would grow to 550,000 barrels a year.

The company could have brewed the beer under current law, but could not also have sold it onsite unless it purchased its own beer at retail prices from an independent distributor and then resold it to customers at the bistro, according to Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.

Under state law, brewpubs can brew and sell at the same location.

Hembree told The Sun News on Wednesday that he wasn’t helping to draft legislation to accommodate Stone Brewing Co. and other large brewers, but would be willing to sponsor a bill if asked.

Thursday afternoon, Hembree explained that the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, asked him Wednesday morning to put his name on the bill as a co-sponsor.

Hembree said he knew the bill was about brewpubs and that it would change state law governing them, adding that he thinks the laws need to be loosened.

He did not read the bill, but said he has worked closely on other legislation with Bennett, who sits next to him in the Senate chamber.

“I’m taking it on my good friend’s word,” he said, “and I can trust him.”

Lofton said he now thinks there is a chance the bill could pass this legislative session. To do so, it will have to be approved by the Senate and sent by May 1 to the House for a vote there.

“This will be good news for our state,” Lofton said when he learned Thursday afternoon of the bill’s introduction.

Hembree said the bill can make it through both legislative chambers this session, but thinks it will be a challenge. One possibility, he said, is that an identical bill will be introduced into the House and moved through at the same time Bennett’s bill moves through the Senate.

“Can it happen?” Hembree asked. “Yes ... Stranger things have happened.”

After the vote in the Senate, the bill was sent to the Committee on Judiciary, according to the state legislature website.

Stone Brewing had no part in the bill’s submission, the company spokeswoman told The Post and Courier.

“The ability to meet our guidelines and what we’re looking for in a community are the first areas that we’re looking for,” Sabrina LoPiccolo told the newspaper.

She told The Sun News on Wednesday afternoon that Stone Brewing is working its way through the proposals, narrowing the list of candidates. She said in an email that the company won’t say how many proposals it received or give a deadline for a decision.

But the company plans to begin work on its new facility by the end of the year, she said.

The bill, if successful, not only will be good for the effort to recruit Stone Brewing, Lofton said, but could help the Grand Strand and the state to compete for other large breweries.

It could also assist S.C.-based craft brewers, such as New South in Myrtle Beach, to expand their businesses, according to Lofton.

Lofton said Wednesday that MBREDC already is talking with a brewer in addition to Stone Brewing Co., but declined to name it. He said that company is not asking to have an adjoining retail outlet to sell its product.