Brewing bill compromise reached, makes way for Stone Brewing Co. to locate in SC

S.C. Sen. Luke Rankin said late Tuesday afternoon that Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt told him that Stone Brewing Co. would move to South Carolina if the legislature passes a bill to accommodate its operation.

But Stone Brewing Co. spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo said in an email Tuesday that the company has not made a decision where it will build its East Coast brewery.

“While we applaud the legislation in South Carolina and any like it, this necessary element is but one of many factored into our decision making laid out in our request for proposal,” she wrote.

Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, said that a House-Senate conference committee working to resolve concerns with the bill reached a compromise with the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association on Tuesday. Rankin said that the beer wholesalers association had wanted to deny the sales of wine and other beers at a bistro next to its brewery, but decided to drop that request during Tuesday’s conference committee meeting.

Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, would not comment Tuesday about Stone Brewing, saying that the agency does not comment on ongoing economic development matters. Myrtle Beach, as well as Charleston, Lexington and Greenville-Spartanburg, want Stone Brewing in their town.

S.C. law currently allows brewpubs to sell on site if they produce no more than 2,000 barrels of beer a year. The proposed legislation would raise that limit to 500,000 barrels a year.

Stone Brewing wants to sell its beer at a bistro adjacent to the brewery it will build on the East Coast, and the proposed bill, if approved, would allow that. Stone Brewing has said it will invest up to $30 million and hire hundreds of employees wherever it locates a brewery to serve the East Coast. The California-based company is the 10th largest craft brewer in the country.

Brad Lofton, CEO of the EDC, said the other S.C. locations have transportation advantages over the Grand Strand, but they can’t match this area’s big draw.

“None of them have our impact for brand awareness,” Lofton said, referring to the 14 million tourists who come to Myrtle Beach each year.

Lofton said he heard that Stone Brewing “played a large roll in drafting the bill” that’s now being considered.

Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, said Stone Brewing has expressed interest in South Carolina’s legislation.

“They certainly were very interested in seeing the law pushed,” he said. “... They wouldn‘t be encouraging us if we weren’t still in the running.”

Rankin said that he will seek pre-conference power for the legislation as it moves out of the conference committee. That would mean it would need only a concurrence vote from the Senate and House before it could move to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office for her signature.

He said that he couldn’t get the necessary 2/3rds vote in the Senate for the pre-conference power on Tuesday, but the majority favored it, and Rankin said that he believes a 2/3rd vote is assured with the compromise over the legislation.

Rankin said he’s hopeful that the legislation can make it through the process this week.

He said that he doesn’t believe Hitt would have made the comment about the company locating in South Carolina lightly. Rankin said that Commerce officials met with Stone Brewing in California last week.

He called Tuesday “a great day for the effort and moving the ball forward with good faith negotiation on all parts.”

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