Palmetto Sunrise: Beer lovers rejoice! Bill for craft brewers passes

The South Carolina Statehouse. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Beer lovers rejoiced Wednesday as the Palmetto State likely joined the ranks of states with looser restrictions on craft breweries, a potential sea change for in and out-of-state brewers who could take advantage.

The bill has one hurdle, Gov. Nikki Haley. Lawmakers expect her to sign the bill.

Breaking through the barriers hasn't been easy, particularly in South Carolina where lawmakers say business interests - wholesalers, distributors and large corporate brewers - have traditionally opposed changes to the state's system. Put in place after Prohibition, the state's three-tier system protects each segment of the business and lobbyists and attorneys have pushed hard over the years to keep it in place, lawmakers say. Even when, lawmakers said, in this case everybody stands to gain.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, has said that he hopes the vote to loosen the state's laws regarding brewpubs is a step toward getting rid of the state's antiquated alcohol laws.

The bill would allow 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.

The big question for beer aficionados: what does that mean for Stone Brewing?.

Commerce officials hope to attract the Escondido, Calif.-based craft brewery, the 10th largest of its kind in the United States. Brewery officials have 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.

"By doing this, it turns up the heat in terms of our courtship in a way that wouldn't have been possible," Merrill said.

We'll have to stay tuned to see if the state - and perhaps Charlestion - can land the brewery.

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