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Compromise reached on craft beer bill

By Ashley Boncimino
Published May 28, 2014

A compromise reached Tuesday on a pending beer bill would eliminate production caps for breweries and allow them to sell food, as well as beer and wine, from other producers for on-site consumption.

Aimed at attracting brewing companies to the state, the compromise could have significant economic impact on the craft brewing and other industries in the state, according to proponents.

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Lawmakers in Columbia met Tuesday to address concerns from the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association about potential changes to distribution laws The association met Friday to compile suggestions for the meeting, according to the association’s Executive Director Julie Cox. The compromise ensures beer distribution laws will remain unchanged.

The compromise between the S.C. Brewers Association and the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association needs to pass both the House and the Senate before it goes to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office.

“Right now, the only thing we can serve in our brewery is RJ Rockers beer, and with the new language, it would give us the ability to be in the food and beverage business if we so choose,” said RJ Rockers co-founder John Bauknight, who was involved with the Tuesday conference committee discussion.

“It helps all other craft breweries in the area, and I really feel it helps the smaller breweries,” he said Friday.

The bill was initially aimed at drawing San Diego-based craft brewer Stone Brewing Co. to the Palmetto State after the brewer sent out a request for proposals for an East Coast restaurant and brewery.

Senator Luke Rankin, R-Conway, said at the public Senate-House conference committee that he had been told by S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt that Stone Brewery would come to South Carolina if the bill passed.

S.C. Department of Commerce Director of Marketing and Communications Allison Skipper said the organization does not comment on ongoing economic development activity.

Representatives for Stone Brewing Co. also denied that an agreement had been reached.

“We have not made a decision as to where our East Coast brewery will be located,” said Stone Brewing Co. Public Relations Specialist Sabrina LoPiccolo in an emailed statement. “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.”

The bill was initially written to expand brewpubs’ production cap from 2,000 barrels per year to 500,000 barrels per year. New language in the bill would not amend the capacity of brewpubs at all and would instead eliminate production limits on breweries entirely. The distinction between brewpubs and breweries is a matter of licensing. Currently, breweries can’t sell more than 4 pints of beer on site and they cannot sell beer brewed by other producers. By contrast, brewpubs do not have limits on on-site consumption but can’t sell beer for off-site consumption of beer from other producers.

“The agreement authorizes brewers in the context of their brewery licenses to have on-premise sales that are not constrained by tasting laws that have limitations on the amount they can sell if they have food service,” said S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association General Counsel Lea Kerrison.

“This is a compromise that the wholesalers are willing to live with to get done what it is that everybody wants to get done in the time that everybody wants it to get done,” Kerrison said.

Last year, the passage of the Pint Law allowed breweries to sell up to four pints at designated tasting rooms if they were sold in conjunction with a tour.

Seven lawmakers attended the meeting: Sens. Luke Rankin, R-Horry; C. Bradley Hutto, D-Orangeburg; and Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester; and Reps. J. Derham Cole Jr., R-Spartanburg; James H. Merrill, R-Berkeley; Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland; and Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. Also included in discussion were Kerrison, Bauknight and S.C. Brewers Association General Counsel Brook Bristow.

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