Gov. Nikki Haley has signed into law a sweeping change in South Carolina's approach to beer, lifting restrictions to help craft breweries grow and attract outside beermakers with the potential to invest millions and hire hundreds.
State lawmakers approved the so-called "Stone bill" last week and sent it on to Haley, who signed the measure into law Monday.
The change allows breweries to produce an unlimited amount of beer and also operate on-site restaurants that serve food. They would not be able to sell liquor, but could offer their brews, other breweries' suds and wine in their restaurants.
That's important to attracting breweries like Stone Brewing, supporters argue, because their operations are destinations for beer aficionados. In addition to tours of its plant, Stone offers a restaurant, an elaborate garden, upscale bars, a store and other features.
The Escondido, Calif.-based craft brewery, the 10th largest of its kind in the United States, had said it plans to expand its operation to the East Coast this year - a move that promises to bring nearly 400 jobs and a $29 million investment to the host city that lands it.
State Commerce Department officials reportedly traveled to California in recent weeks to court Stone, and the Palmetto State is said to be a strong contender to land the new brewery with now that its beer laws have been amended. Senators said Stone is looking at the Greenville, Spartanburg and Charleston areas.
The bill seemingly came out of nowhere at the tail end of the legislative session. It was attached to an innocuous measure that allows customers to redeem alcohol-related coupons at the cash register instead of having to mail them in. Few outside observers gave it much chance of passing. But the prospect of landing hundreds of jobs enticed lawmakers to get behind the measure.
Beer distributors had some reservations about the measure undercutting their business, but they eventually came on board in a compromise that added safeguards to their interests.
Legislators also approved a provision that would do away with a ban on Election Day alcohol sales in exchange for a ban on Christmas Day sales.
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