Friday, July 11, 2014
The fastest growing county in South Carolina hasn’t yet tapped what’s become one of the fastest growing industries in the state: craft beer breweries.
Craft breweries in the Charleston region are expected to grow exponentially over the next few months due to relaxing laws allowing brewpubs to sell unlimited beer and food to patrons. Eleven are expected to open between now and the end of the year in Charleston and Dorchester counties.
So far, Berkeley County hasn’t seemed to attract any potential breweries, according to an attorney for the S.C. Brewers’ Association. But that’s not because the county is a bad fit for the business models.
“It’s only a matter of time before Berkeley cashes in on that as well,” attorney Brook Bristow said. “It’s going to happen at some point.”
That’s because the industry is experiencing boom times, particularly in the Lowcountry.
“This is big business in South Carolina,” Bristow said. “The latest numbers show this has a $254 million impact on South Carolina, and that’s as of 2012. That doesn’t even include the recent laws … those numbers are really going to ramp up now.”
He added that breweries provide more than 3,000 jobs in the state: “This is really a Golden Age for craft beer and, certainly, that’s true in South Carolina as well.”
The most recently passed law, known as Stone law, allows South Carolina breweries to serve food and unlimited amounts of beer. The law is rooted in the state seeking to attract Stone Brewing Co., but also has paved the way for locals to try their hands at craft beer.
State Sen. Sean Bennett championed Stone law, which passed in June. He called it a “tremendous boon to the brewery industry here.”
The problem was that, under old state law, breweries were limited. They could sell only so much beer direct to consumers on site. And, if they sold food next door, they needed a contracted middleman to carry the beer over.
Last year, the Department of Commerce approached Bennett about introducing the bill in the S.C. Senate. The senator did, but the bill sputtered and stalled. However, he was able to push an amendment in the S.C. House that would later loosen the restrictions.
Bennett called brewery industry growth nationwide “staggering” and said it’s an opportunity for the state.
“I love economic development, I love creating job opportunities, and I love craft beer as well,” Bennett said. “It really epitomizes, in my mind, American entrepreneurism.
“These aren’t big, international corporations.”
Decades ago, South Carolina — a state with a membership card to the Bible Belt — might not have looked at loosening alcohol restrictions. Even in the 21st century, many counties still adhere to Blue laws, restricting alcohol sales on Sundays.
But allowing breweries to sell unlimited amounts of booze while they serve food seemed like the right choice for Bennett.
“We live in a world where we are growing and expanding our attitudes,” Bennett said. “(Craft brewers) are very respectable people. They’re good folks who are active in their communities.”
Already, a brewpub has announced plans to open in neighboring Summerville. Oak Road Brewery will open this fall under the same roof as Coastal Coffee Roasters.
But no such announcements are coming from Berkeley County, according to the Brewers’ Association and County Supervisor Dan Davis.
Davis said he’s willing to roll out the welcome mat to the county.
“I can’t imagine we would be opposed to (a brewery). We would accommodate them any way we could,” Davis said.
Bristow said Berkeley County has untapped potential.
“Goose Creek, for example, is rife with opportunity for someone who wants to open,” Bristow said. He added that smaller towns than Goose Creek have had successful breweries so “certainly there’s opportunity there.”
For breweries, their location and success will depend on county and municipal zoning ordinances. Since breweries are considered manufacturers, some ordinances keep them to industrial zones and away from retail.
In Charleston County, breweries were kept to industrial zones. But recently, the county approved changes to allow breweries to open in commercial zones.
“In terms of someone coming to Berkeley, that’s going to be the biggest concern, just in terms of the number of properties available to them,” Bristow said.
Davis said he wasn’t sure if Berkeley County has restrictions for breweries, but that if there were, it’d be something he would like changed.