South Carolina’s restrictive beer laws strike again

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
Total Population: 9,222,414 4,479,800
Breweries: 15 5
Brewpubs: 18 7
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.


About Brian

I like beer.
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4 Responses to South Carolina’s restrictive beer laws strike again

  1. Evan says:

    My guess is that beer distributors have a nice cushy situation that allows them to do certain things that would help make legislators less inclined to threaten their entrenched distribution positions. The only way around that is to either prove that adjusting the law would yield more tax revenue or yield more campaign contributions. So if the distinguished representative Bill Herbkersman is going to bat for brewers, then perhaps we should put a pool of campaign donations into escrow pending the political outcome?

    Another prong to the attack should focus on the revenue and taxes. Given that a vast majority of the beer purchased in SC is probably produced outside of the state, wouldn’t it be smarter to build an environment that would keep more of that revenue within state borders? Every person who opts to buy from a local brewery is taking dollars out of the hands of Budweiser, Coors, Miller et al and putting it into the pockets of a local business. Local businesses who pay local and state taxes. Taxes that could be spent on, oh, I don’t know, one of those bigger tragedies like education or right to life issues or racism.

  2. Brian says:

    I agree, it all comes down to money and special interests. I’m sure there is fear on the part of distributors to relinquish any piece of the pie. However, if you open up breweries to sell on their own, it’s not like everyone in Charleston is suddenly going to make the drive out to North Chuck to get their beer at Coast. Most people would still rather just drive down the street and buy whatever is in the store.

    Not only that, but by allowing breweries to sell on their own, you encourage fun activities like brewery tours, interacting with the brewers, hanging out at the brewery, whatever. That gets people engaged and could bring new customers into the market. That type of engagement increases awareness, and increased awareness will likely mean increased purchases.

    So, rather than the government and distributors holding desperately onto the pie they have, why not work to make a bigger pie, so that even if their percentage is less, everyone actually gets more. Then we’re all happy and drinking good beer. What’s wrong with that?

  3. Evan says:

    Well said. It’s the long tail of beer.

  4. Wow I was unaware of the crazy beer laws. Thanks for sharing!

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