After a legislative battle involving our state's breweries, various lawmakers, some fringe voices, and the sacrosanct promise of jobs echoing all over the joint, the Statehouse turned the Stone Bill into the Stone Law this summer. The bill was drafted after the mega-craft brewery announced plans to expand its operations to another state. The men and women of the General Assembly hoped South Carolina would be selected, and so they changed the laws governing our state's breweries. Ultimately, Stone didn't choose the Palmetto State, but the Stone Law will dramatically change the craft-beer biz in South Carolina.
The key change in the new law allows breweries to serve more than three-pints on-site, as long as they also sell food. Those last two words are a bit tricky, though. Selling bags of pretzels isn't quite good enough. Nay, our breweries need to have a DHEC-certified kitchen on the premises to join the post-three-pint world. Does this connection between a working kitchen and the ability for a brewery to serve more than an arbitrary three-pint maximum make sense? That fight is for another day. For now, opportunity is knocking, and Holy City Brewing has answered the door. Enter Struggle's Really Slow Food.
Named for Holy City brewer Tim Bettencourt's dog, Struggle's Really Slow Food is the first DHEC-approved kitchen in a previously established production brewery in Charleston. "We had some open space behind our walk-in cooler in the taproom, so two of the walls were already there," says Chris Brown, head brewer and co-owner. "We just put up two more and a ceiling." That gave them an enclosed space where three sinks, an equipment table, fridge, freezer, lighting, and more would follow. After the installation, they called DHEC, got an inspection, and were off and running before July was out.
"We aren't trying to be a restaurant," Brown is quick to note. But in the eyes of the law, they are. "Right now, we just serve a burrito that we prep in house and then heat up in a toaster oven." Currently, Shay MacDonald, the chef at HöM, is helping with the menu and prep. The burrito comes with salsa and costs $6. Interestingly, Struggle's hasn't slowed down business for the food trucks that regularly visit Holy City Brewing, nor is that the goal.
The investment in the kitchen has turned Holy City into what patrons from much of the rest of the country would consider a "real" brewery experience. There are no more wristbands, tally-marked as guests approach a state-imposed limit. "Right off the bat," Brown says, "we noticed a difference in how smooth our bar runs, and how less stressful the experience is for the guests."
That stress came from a constant explanation of the rules to their customers. Now, they serve beer, and you buy beer (assuming you're of-age, and not intoxicated), and have a lovely time. It's as if people over 21 are grown-ups and can make their own decisions, all of a sudden. Meanwhile, they're now open 12 additional hours a week, and they've added seats and hired a few more bartenders. In other words, jobs, as promised.
To hear Brown say it, the law "changes the way [Holy City] and other breweries are perceived in South Carolina. People can come in the brewery and hang out for a longer amount of time, enjoy the food trucks, or listen to live music. We want to attract more people to the brewery, and the Stone Law allows us to do that."
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.