The timing couldn't have been better for the expansion project underway at Palmetto Brewing Co.
At a glance
Palmetto Brewing Co.
where: 289 Huger St., Charleston
Owners: Ed Falkenstein, Edwin Pearlstine
Core Brands: Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Charleston Lager, Espresso Porter
Annual Distribution: 6,000 barrels
By the time a new law passed last month that allows South Carolina breweries to serve food and unlimited amounts of beer, Palmetto was already upgrading its facility on Huger Street with a new kitchen, expanded tasting room and more inviting entrance.
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Quest Brewing, Greeville
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RiverDog Brewing, Ridgeland
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Thomas Creek Brewery, Greenville
Wooden Skiff Brewing, Hilton Head
When the brewery started construction on the project about six months ago, the law at the time said that breweries could sell no more than 48 ounces of beer, or three pints, to each patron per visit in a 24-hour time frame.
Palmetto co-owner Edwin Pearlstine, a veteran beer distributor who joined Palmetto more than a year ago, said the original plan was to make the brewery a more attractive event space so they could rent it out for weddings and corporate affairs. They wanted to add the kitchen to make operations easier for caterers, and they remodeled the entryway to create a more fluid gathering place, he said.
"When we found out about the bill, and it thankfully passed, we were in a great position to take advantage of it," General Manager John Planty said. "It's amazing good timing."
The renovation has involved moving the loading dock to the back of the property to make room for the new kitchen and tasting room, which now will be air-conditioned. It includes the brewery's first gift shop, where visitors will be able to fill up growlers or purchase six-packs of Palmetto brews, which wasn't allowed at breweries before the new law passed.
Also, the front patio has been repaved, painted and decorated with hand-painted murals by local artist David Boatwright, who did the murals at Hominy Grill, Mixson Market and GrowFood Carolina.
Pearlstine said all the construction could wrap up as soon as next week.
The overall goal of the brewery's remodeling, Planty said, is to attract more visitors there to get consumers to interact with their brands. Then, as they build a fan base, they'll be able to sustain "deep growth" throughout the Palmetto State, he said. By next year, the brewery plans to increase annual production to 8,000 barrels from 6,000.
"We want to solidify ourselves as South Carolina's beer, and we think the market is there," he said.
Now that many of the restrictions on in-state breweries have been lifted, reaching those goals may be less complicated. The new law says that as long as breweries offer food, or at least get a permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to serve food, patrons can buy as much of their beer as they can reasonably drink during one visit.
"This bill passing really allows us to market our brands better," Planty said. "Now, we can serve a proper amount of beer and it allows us to showcase our brands with food pairings that will highlight their tastes."
Chris Winn, marketing director of the brewery, said they don't have a specific menu mapped out yet, but they intend to offer small appetizers such as meat and cheese plates.
The law, the so-called Stone bill, was pitched as a way to enhance South Carolina's chances of attracting Stone Brewing Co., the Escondido, Calif.-based company that's like a theme park for beer enthusiasts, with on-site bars, fine dining establishments, tours and other amenities. The company has been searching for a host city for its East Coast expansion, and South Carolina likely wouldn't be in the running if it hadn't changed its laws.
Although the brewery still hasn't announced where it is headed, the law could allow in-state breweries like Palmetto to become more competitive on a national level.
"With or without the Stone bill, it didn't stop any other breweries from any other part of the country starting to sell their beers here, which is what's been happening," Winn said. "We're 10, 15 points behind in distribution compared to what they're doing in Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington, or San Francisco. In their cities, they make up 25 percent of the beer they're selling. Here, we're 12 (percent)."
Brooks Bristow, general counsel for the S.C. Brewers Association, said that's why the bill's passage this year has been so important for South Carolina breweries, even if Stone goes elsewhere.
"If Palmetto is looking to open this new kitchen and remodel, then this bill is doing exactly what it was designed to do," Bristow said.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail