COLUMBIA -- Microbrewery owners in South Carolina said Wednesday that a bill allowing people to sample their beer on site will increase their sales while boosting tourism.
Microbreweries and specialty retail stores could offer limited beer samplings under measures approved by a House Judiciary subcommittee. State law already allows wine and liquor tastings.
The legislation could make South Carolina a travel destination for beer connoisseurs, who visit breweries much like wine enthusiasts trek to Napa Valley, Calif., South Carolina Brewer's Association President Jaime Tenny said.
The state now has five microbreweries, she said. She expects the craft brew business to increase under the proposed law, adding that prospective brewers often decide to open in North Carolina after she informs them of South Carolina's current restrictions.
"This is a huge, huge step," said Tenny, co-owner of COAST Brewing Co. in North Charleston, adding that she now turns down roughly 10 tour requests weekly.
One measure allows samplings and on-site sales only if customers take a tour, as per a compromise with the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association. Each tourist can buy up to a case of beer per day.
Hopefully, Tenny said, customers will like what they sample, buy some to go, then ask for it later when they go out.
Thomas Creek Brewery owner Bill Davis said his Greenville brewery attracts an average of one tourist daily, which would increase if people could sample his concoctions on site and buy what they like. He expects to hire a full-time tour guide.
"People who tour the country visiting microbrewers -- especially in the summertime -- they want to buy from the brewery. They want to say they bought it there," Davis said. "It may be a small help in the economy, but every little bit helps."
He noted it's only fair for legislators to allow microbrewers to do what wineries and distillers already can do.
A separate measure allows limited beer tastings at specialty alcohol stores. Proponents said it would boost business for the microbrewers and retailers.
Some of the high-octane craft beers that connoisseurs will sample were illegal in South Carolina before 2007, when legislators lifted the 6 percent alcohol-by-volume cap on beer.