Bill would loosen regulations around S.C. craft beer industry, expand to-go sales

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Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill advancing at the State House would let beer drinkers take more of their favorite craft brew home from South Carolina breweries.

It’s part of a larger push to loosen regulations around the state’s growing craft brewing industry.

Right now, people can buy 48 ounces of beer in a single day at a craft brewery for on-site consumption, and they can take home 288 ounces, equivalent to a case of 12-ounce cans.

This bill called the “South Carolina Craft Beer Economic Development Act,” would eliminate that second cap, so adults could take home as much beer as they wanted to buy. Nearby states including North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Florida allow unlimited to-go sales, while Georgia is considering removing its limit.

The legislation would also allow breweries with multiple like-owned locations to more easily transfer beer between those locations, called bonded transfer. Three dozen other states already permit bonded transfer, but South Carolina law requires breweries to sell their beer to a wholesaler and then purchase it back to make the transfer.

In addition, the act would remove current permitting barriers for special events and allow breweries to self-distribute up to 2,000 barrels of their beer each year on their own to retailers, without involving a wholesale distributor.

“Lots of our members lie in communities where it’d be beneficial for them to carry a keg of their beer across the street from their location to a retailer,” Pearce Fleming, president of Commonhouse Aleworks in North Charleston, told members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday on behalf of the 81 member breweries in the South Carolina Brewers Guild.

Fleming said self-distribution could especially help smaller brewers.

“For them, the ability to sell direct to a local retailer especially would be, they consider to be life-changing for their business, their ability to stay in business, to keep all that margin,” he said.

But the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association argued that while current law requires distributors provide service to all retail accounts in the state weekly, breweries would not be held to that same mandate.

“With the analogy, ‘We just want to take a keg across the street.’ Well, they would just be taking them to their favorite retailers, competing against their wholesaler,” South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association Executive Director Lance Boozer said.

Boozer said his group might support raising the limit on how much beer people could purchase to take home and allowing bonded transfer, if changes were made to how those parts of the legislation were written.

But in total, he said wholesalers oppose the bill and especially could not get behind loosened permitting and self-distribution.

“In my discussions with our smaller distributors, they believe that this would absolutely decimate them,” Boozer said about self-distribution. “Some of those folks have built up iconic South Carolina brands that you all know and love. To have those brands yanked out from under them would decimate their businesses.”

On Tuesday, senators took the first step in the legislative process, advancing this bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

But they also made it clear there is work to be done between the brewers and the wholesalers if this bill is going to survive and become law.

Those groups are under a tight timeline, with a key deadline to get bills passed in one chamber coming up soon.

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