Stone Brewing bill could emerge from committee on Tuesday

S.C. Sen. Luke Rankin said Wednesday afternoon that a bill to accommodate Stone Brewing Co. likely will get out of a House-Senate conference committee in time to pass this session.

The committee is working with the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association to craft language that will satisfy the association’s concerns but still allow Stone and other large craft beer brewers to produce up to 500,000 barrels a year and sell it on site.

Stone Brewing Co. is the nation’s 10th largest craft brewer and is looking for an East Coast location for its second brewery. Stone is now brewed in California, and the company recently put out a call for proposals.

Horry County and three other S.C. locations submitted proposals, but state law needs to be changed because Stone wants to have a bistro adjoining the brewery where it would sell food and the beer.

South Carolina law now allows brewpubs to produce no more than 2,000 barrels a year and still sell on site.

Rankin, a member of the conference committee, said the group met for the first time Wednesday afternoon in an organizational meeting. He said its next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday and that it is possible the committee could send a bill to the Senate for concurrence.

If that bill does not differ from the version already approved by the House, Rankin said, no other vote would be needed for it to go to Gov. Nikki Haley to sign it into law.

If the bill is changed by the committee, then a concurrence vote will be needed by both the Senate and the House.

Julie Cox, executive director of the Beer Wholesalers Association, said that a version of the bill that would satisfy the association’s concern has been written and reviewed by craft brewers and the S.C. Economic Developers Association. The beer wholesalers will review it at a meeting Friday, she said.

“We will have something to them by (Tuesday),” Cox said Wednesday afternoon.

The Beer Wholesalers Association said earlier in the session that it would not oppose the brewpub legislation as long as it requires Stone and other large brewers to distribute beer in S.C. through wholesalers.

The proposed law that was stalled earlier this week had language to ensure that.

But Cox said the association is determined to get legislation passed this session that will satisfy all sides.

“We still have full intention of getting something passed by June 5th,” she said.

The legislature is set to adjourn then.

Rankin said he is not totally sure about the specifics of the concerns of the Wholesalers Association.

“The intent is not to harm one and favor the other,” Rankin said of what will emerge from the conference committee if an agreement can be reached.

But he also said that the current bill could be sent out if all sides can’t agree on the language to satisfy concerns. Four committee members - two from the House and two from the Senate - favor a law change to accommodate Stone Brewing, Rankin said.

“We’ll know Tuesday if we have a deal here or if we forge ahead,” Rankin said.

He said that all sides are working in good faith to overcome obstacles.

Fred Richardson, chairman of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said that Stone Brewing would be an exciting industry for the Grand Strand. Not only would it bring jobs, he said, but it also would attract tourists.

“Just because the bill passes doesn’t mean we will get Stone Brewing,” he said. “But if it doesn’t pass, we know we won’t get it. At least this gives us a chance.”