COLUMBIA, SC – A couple of laws you may not have even heard of have generated an estimated 140 jobs in South Carolina and almost $14 million for the state’s economy. The laws dealt with breweries and how much beer they can sell directly to consumers.
State lawmakers passed the first law, known as “The Pint Law”, back in 2013. Before that, someone touring a brewery in the state could drink no more than four, 4-ounce samples of the beer. The pint law now allows breweries to sell consumers up to three pints, or 48 ounces.
The second law was known as “The Stone Law,” because it was passed to try to attract Stone Brewing to South Carolina. Stone was looking for a location for its first brewery on the East Coast. It did not choose South Carolina, but the law remains and has made it more profitable for other breweries to start or locate here. It allows breweries that also serve food to sell even more beer directly to consumers.
River Rat Brewery started in Columbia in January 2014, after the pint law took effect. Owner Mike Tourville says, “The three-pint law puts some money in your pocket so you can pay your electric bills, you can pay all your bills and you don’t have to count on as much investors and outside money to help pay for things until you can get your product out there and branded and sell more beer.”
He says that’s because there are some big start-up costs to opening a brewery. By having a taproom, the brewery can sell more beer directly to consumers and the brewery keeps all the profits without having to pay a distributor.
Link Owens and Austin Edmonds visited the River Rat Brewery taproom for the first time recently. Owens said it’s different from just going to a bar. “You try a beer at one of those bars and you like it, like okay, I tried this River Rat IPA and I liked it. Well hey, that brewery is, you know, five minutes up the road. You can go and try whatever kind of beer they make. Pretty cool.”
Edmonds said, “You get more of the sense of the local feel, the local environment, how they actually do things here. You get to see how it’s made. Typically they’ll give you a tour and just give you a little history about it.”
River Rat made about 1,300 barrels of beer its first year, and Tourville says he expects to make double that this year. He’s planning a major expansion next year, adding a new 3,000 square foot building to his current location.
He says lawmakers could pass another law that would help attract even more breweries, and help those already here to grow. Right now, breweries in South Carolina have to use a distributor to sell their products. But in North Carolina, breweries can sell directly to restaurants, bars, and retail stores.
“I don’t think it’s a fair system that one state can self-distribute and another state you can’t, and you don’t even have a choice,” Tourville says. “And that’s going to hurt South Carolina for breweries because why not go to North Carolina or somewhere where you don’t need a distributor?”
He says he’s not looking to get rid of distributors completely. “A distributor is very useful, very helpful. I would need a distributor to go after more markets and whatnot. I don’t have a trucking line. I don’t have a fleet. I don’t have any of those things, nor do I really want to deal with that, but I would like to be able to sell in my own town,” he says.
The economic study of the beer industry in the state projects that, over the next five years, breweries will have an additional economic impact of almost $71 million and create 641 jobs.