Could Summerville get its own beer brewery? New law paves the way

  • Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summerville could be brewing more than just sweet tea in the coming months.

The town could have its first brewery following the passage of recent legislation lifting restrictions on brewpubs.

The 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.

Summerville freshman legislator 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. But 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.”

Summerville’s own coffee roaster Brad Mallett is one of those active community members. He’s seeking to move beyond brewing a cup of joe and open a brewpub.

Mallett is forming a craft beer partnership to operate independently but under the same roof of Coastal Coffee Roasters. He said the previous antiquated laws “disheartened” him as he sought to brew beer. The old law wouldn’t have prevented him from brewing, but it certainly didn’t make it easy.

Since opening Coastal Coffee Roasters in 2010, Mallett has made a name for himself and the business by being immersed in the community. And now with the possibility of adding beer to the mix, he’s hoping to build upon Summerville’s community with Oak Road Bewery.

“In Europe, each community has its own brewery, and that’s what ties their community together,” Mallett said.

If everything goes as planned, Oak Road Brewery could be brewing up its first batches in October and be open by November, just in time for the town’s inaugural half marathon.

Oak Road Brewery CEO Ben Bankey said the new bill was a “game changer” in letting the business move forward. Bankey said the new brewery could also be a game changer for Summerville.

“Everyone has to go to Charleston to get quality whether its food or beer … It’s time for Summerville to step its game up.” Bankey said. “This gives tourists a reason to stop in Summerville. We can provide them great craft food and great craft beer that is available in Charleston.”

With the promise of the town’s first ever brewery, residents and tourists alike will have to wait until the weather cools and the leaves turn to see if it becomes reality.

“What (the Stone law) means for Dorchester County remains to be seen,” Bennett said. “It provides a foundation for people to operate in our county, and I hope they would … (But) let’s not let failure be because government said you couldn’t do it.”

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