I read some sad news yesterday. Due to South Carolina’s archaic and restrictive beer laws, the Charleston Beer Exchange has had to stop doing their in-store beer tastings. It is ridiculous how backwards and hypocritical South Carolina’s laws are pertaining to beer. This is especially evident when you look at our neighbor North Carolina, which has far fewer restrictions, and you see how craft beer is flourishing there. The numbers say it all:
|North Carolina||South Carolina|
|People per brewery:||279,467||344,600|
The disparity gets really bad when you look at the top craft beer states such as Oregon and Colorado. Portland, Oregon alone has 46 breweries and brewpubs. FORTY-SIX! Now that is my kind of town!
Obviously, South Carolina is a little behind the curve. We’re often behind the times, so we’re used to it. But why the hate against beer, when wine is given more rights? Wine shops can have wine tastings. Wineries can sell their own wine in gift shops. I don’t know a ton about the legal aspect of this debate, and it may simply be a licensing issue, but it’s obviously not clear or easy to obtain the necessary licenses.
I do know for a fact that in South Carolina breweries can either distribute OR sell on-premises. That means they have a choice, distribute to bars, restaurants and stores, or you can be a brewpub and sell your own beer. You can’t do both. That causes a lot of problems for our local craft brewers.
Distribution costs are high, so being able to sell at their own facility would help profitability. Also, having brewery tours, tasting rooms and beer gardens is a good way to draw in customers and provides a great public relations opportunity. It’s no wonder we only have 13 commercial brewers in this state.
I know it sounds kind of silly to argue about this when we still have a world full of real tragedies like racism, poverty and right-to-life issues, but these beer regulations are real issues that affect small businesses and people’s livelihoods. Small businesses need any edge they can get to draw in customers and provide them with a positive and memorable experience so they will come back. That level of customer service is vital in order to compete with the big box companies.
In 2007, Pop the Cap South Carolina lobbied and won a huge victory for beer when the ABV limit was raised from 5% to 14%. That organization has morphed into the South Carolina Brewers Association, and they have taken up the torch for beer advocacy.
The SCBA has been working with Representive Bill Herbkersman and they have a bill ready to go before the state house that will allow microbreweries and brewpubs to dual license. I’ll keep you posted once this bill has a number and we can pester our legislators to get with it.
When you look around the country, you can see the potential for craft beer. I want to see that in my state, too.