According to Brook Bristow, a Greenville-based attorney who services many brewery clients, South Carolina is experiencing a boom in brewery growth. "Since the Pint Law passage, there has been a 150 percent increase in the number of breweries opening. We recently did an economic study which concluded that by 2019, we would have 48 breweries open in South Carolina," he says. "I think that estimate is very conservative." Bristow says there are 20 breweries and 16 brewpubs open right now. In the Charleston area alone, there are 15 breweries in the planning stages. "If all of those open, that's about a 187.5 percent change," he says. "If those numbers hold, that would put Charleston above Asheville in the number of breweries and brewpubs."
With that kind of growth comes the need for stronger organization. Thus the S.C. Brewers Guild was born, and it looks like it will be a game-changer.
Basically the guild is a more official, dues-paying organization. "Really, the changes happening [with the Guild] now are internal ones dealing with the organization structure and how it functions and interacts," says Bristow, the Guild's volunteer executive director. "We now have a board of directors, an executive director, and a rebranding with full-time content on our social media and website platforms." One change many might recognize is an upgrade on the southcarolinabeer.org website. The face-lift was donated by Push Digital, a digital media and political advocacy firm headed up by conservative political consultant Wesley Donehue, one of the Stone Law's bona fide (and pro bono) beer heroes.
Donehue is just one of the many big names involved in the Guild, which also has serious Charleston representation. The board includes Holy City Brewing's Chris Brown as VP, Palmetto's John Planty as treasurer, and Frothy Beard's Michael Biondi as secretary. They're joined by president John Bauknight of RJ Rockers in Spartanburg, and communications director Will McCameron of Brewery 85 in Greenville. As executive director, Bristow's job is to "run the day-to-day operations of the Guild and follow instructions from the board."
The specifics of those instructions are a work in progress, but Bristow says, "The mission statement is to be a non-profit that promotes South Carolina craft beer and to advance the interests of craft brewers in the state." In addition to the new branding and web content, Bristow says, "Down the road, you'll probably also see a passport program, a craft beer month, and a South Carolina brewers' festival." There are no legislative pushes planned for 2015, but the Guild has wasted no time in meeting with the S. C. Beer Wholesalers Association (SCBWA), one of the biggest opponents they faced in the state house. (To their credit, while the SCBWA is one of the largest lobbying groups in South Carolina, they have come a long way in understanding the mutual benefit of craft beer's growth since their initial resistance to both Pop the Cap and the original brewery tasting law.) That said, Bristow notes, "The top two priorities right now would be the allowance of brewpub distribution and a reduction in excise taxes, which are some of the highest in the nation." Excise taxes are levied by volume on breweries at both the federal and state levels. As of 2014, South Carolina breweries pay $0.77 per gallon in state excise taxes, putting us squarely in the middle of the top 10. Compare that to a state like Oregon, where breweries pay $0.08 per gallon, and the burden on our breweries becomes apparent.
The Guild is first and foremost a trade organization, but there are plans to get civilians involved as well. "In the coming months, we'll be rolling out an enthusiast program where individuals can show support by purchasing membership into the Guild at a certain level, which will entitle them to benefits such as pints at member breweries, among other things. We're still working out the exact details, but look for it soon," says Bristow.
Until then, if you want to help, Bristow says loud and clear, "Keep drinking South Carolina beer."
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing, and Co-Founder/Editor of CHSBeer.org. Follow him on Twitter @CHSBeer