Beaufort County brewers bubbling with joy over craft-beer bill

05/31/2014 9:20 PM

05/31/2014 9:20 PM

Two Lowcountry beer makers say a measure that would loosen restrictions on South Carolina craft-beer businesses could have a significant effect on Beaufort County's suds scene.

The legislation, aimed at making the state a destination for beer aficionados, would remove brewers' production limits.

Currently, South Carolina brewers are limited to producing 2,000 barrels a year. Purchases by tourists are limited to what they can buy onsite at a brewery.

"This is extremely beneficial not only to our business but craft brewers across the state," said Dan Baker, brewmaster at River Dog Brewing Co. in Okatie.

The bill would also allow brewers to operate a restaurant and get a permit to sell other producers' beer and wine.

Baker said he could serve food and more beer at his tasting center off U.S. 278.

"We get asked all the time by customers, 'Why don't you serve food?'" he said. "People raise an eyebrow when we say it's against the law."

The opportunity to serve unlimited beers, Carolina Gold and Okatie Saison among them, will "keep customers in the door," he said.

Supporters of he bill, which is awaiting Gov. Nikki Haley's signature, hope it will help attract a West Coast brewery's multimillion-dollar investment.

The "Stone Bill" – a nod to the San Diego-area's Stone Brewing Co., the 10th largest brewer in the nation – will make South Carolina a serious contender for landing Stone's $31 million eastward expansion, according to state Rep. Derham Cole of Spartanburg, a sponsor of the bill.

Tayloe Cook, who owns Wooden Skiff Brewing Co. on Hilton Head Island, said the bill increases exposure for craft brewers, an industry that hasn't caught on here as fast as in North Carolina or Georgia.

"Whether Stone comes in or not, economically speaking it puts a spotlight on brewers in the state," he said.

More craft breweries means more tourists, he said.

In an area like Hilton Head, with high-dollar earners and wealthy vacationers, craft breweries are primed to take off, Cook says.

He likened the Lowcountry to the Denver, Colo., area, a scenic location where tourists go to visit an array of microbreweries.

"There's definitely a niche-tourism aspect that could be translated to Hilton Head," he said.

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