Craft brewers boost local economy, culinary scene

Kegs of beer at the 2012 Brewvival festival, an annual event dedicated to craft beers. (File)

They're not your papa's pilsners or your grandpa's pale ales. Charleston's craft beers are serious brews for serious connoisseurs, and they're making quite a splash for the city's economy and its culinary culture.

The so-called Stone Bill passed by the S.C. Legislature this summer and ceremonially signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in August further boosts craft brewing's potential as a lucrative business and an economic driver for the state. Breweries will now be allowed to sell bottled beer and offer dining options on-site, with fewer restrictions on selling beer through wholesalers, among other things.

The bill was named for Stone Brewing, a California-based craft beer giant that had announced it was looking to expand on the East Coast with a new production facility worth more than $30 million and 400 jobs. Stone ended up passing on South Carolina for its new location, but the bill is likely to entice both in-state and out-of-state breweries to open or expand nonetheless.

It's the second piece of beer-friendly legislation passed in S.C. in two years. The Pint Bill, signed in 2013, allowed breweries to serve up to 48 ounces (three pints) of beer to patrons on-site. Previously, only four 4-ounce tastings per person were allowed.

And business is booming. The Charleston area is already home to nine craft breweries at last count, and a handful of new operations are in the works.

Small and independent breweries generated more than $30 billion in economic impact nationwide in 2012, according to the Brewers Association, and production has increased steadily since then. Locally, craft breweries employ dozens of people directly, and indirectly create hundreds of jobs across the supply chain.

Aside from the economic impact, Charleston's craft brewing boom compliments the area's well-established culinary scene perfectly. The second annual Charleston Beer Week, which will feature more than 40 events at venues across the Lowcountry, will run alongside Charleston Restaurant Week in September. Special beer dinners, which feature craft brew pairings with each course, routinely pack the house at local bastions of haute cuisine year round.

Of course, the craft brewing boom should be tempered with a bit of caution. South Carolina is a perennial top-10 candidate for states with the highest rates of drunken-driving fatalities, and alcohol abuse is a deadly, destructive problem.

But the beers brewed around town are better sipped than guzzled anyway. They're that good. So raise a toast to Charleston's craft brewers.